Mercedes-Benz unveiled its vision of the fully connected car of the future at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week.
The German manufacturer used the technology expo to highlight several new and conceptual ideas that it believes will link together to transform cars into machines that communicate with other computer devices in our lives.
A key feature is what Mercedes calls ‘Predictive User Experience’, which previews how intelligent cars of the future will learn about their owner’s driving habits using information from the sat-nav and multimedia systems.
“The car learns, adapts, predicts and interacts with the driver,” explained Thomas Weber, Mercedes-Benz’s research and development boss.
“Imagine this: you get in the car in the morning on a cold winter weekday, and your vehicle already knows that you want to drive to work, and has the fastest route for you based on real-time weather and traffic data, and by the way it also turns automatically the seat heating, steering wheel heating and armrest heating on to your preferred settings.”
Mercedes also highlighted Vehicle Home, a website through which an owner can remotely access data about the car’s performance, basic checks such as fuel levels and tyre pressures, and also analyse their own driving style. Some elements of this concept will be offered with the Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive later this year.
Wearable devices also form an integral part of the plan. A new tie-up with Silicon Valley technology company Pebble has yielded a smart watch that is integrated with the Vehicle Home website and Mercedes' existing Digital DriveStyle smartphone app. It can relay key information such as a vehicle’s fuel level or location, and even tell owners if the car's doors are locked or not.
Mercedes showed how Google Glass could be aligned with a car’s sat-nav system to offer complete ‘door-to-door’ navigation, so that when the driver gets out of his car in a car park, Google’s spectacle-style device will take over guidance to their final destination.
A link-up with Nest Labs, another Silicon Valley automotive company, enables the car to communicate with the heating system in the driver’s house, setting the heating to come on prior to arrival.
One of the major topics of discussion at CES was the continued development of vehicles that are capable of driving autonomously, a concept that most major car manufacturers are currently working on.
Weber pointed out that a modest degree of autonomous driving was possible in the latest Mercedes-Benz S-class and E-class – as well as the C-class due to be unveiled at the imminent Detroit motor show – thanks to the Intelligent Drive suite of driver aids.
Among these is Distronic Plus with Steering Assist, which maintains a safe distance from the car in front and provides lateral lane guidance when the cruise control is engaged, and the radar-controlled BAS Plus braking assist system, which autonomously applies the brakes if it senses the threat of a collision.
However, Weber also conceded that truly autonomous driving on a major scale remains many years away: “Autonomous driving won’t happen overnight. It will need legislation, more detailed map data, more computing power and an intensive social debate.
"We are working full speed to introduce autonomous driving functions into the cars that come to the market in the next years.”