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"Class defining" digital and audio tech showcased by Mercedes at CES

The German firm has upgraded MBUX with AI and collaborates with will.i.am for new immersive sound experiences

Mercedes has used the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) not to showcase a new car, but to reveal its latest software technology, with a trio of new products that will eventually find their way into the firm's road car line-up. 

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the latest trend in the world of technology and Mercedes has embraced AI by incorporating it into its MBUX infotainment system, chiefly integrating it into the "Hey Mercedes" voice control tech to create a new Virtual Assistant. It's part of the new Mercedes-Benz Operating System (MB.OS) that the company has developed from scratch and introduced with the all-new E-Class. It’s being showcased at CES in the Concept CLA Class, the design study that previews Mercedes' next generation compact models which made its debut at the Munich Motor Show last autumn.

The new Virtual Assistant includes four different 'emotions' to help stay in tune with a driver's needs, and it uses generative AI to provide information. It's complemented by a new Surround Navigation system that pairs mapping with the driver assistance systems in one screen that shows you what the car ‘sees’ with its sensors. This features enhanced 3D graphics, including 3D buildings that draw their imagery from Google Maps, where available. plus additional apps that are designed to boost productivity.

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Also showcased at CES was MBUX Sound Drive, which is a joint collaboration between performance division Mercedes-AMG and pop singer/producer will.i.am. Sound Drive is designed to provide a dynamic music soundtrack that matches how the car is being driven, providing, according to Mercedes, "a dynamic musical journey for every trip". The system uses the car’s sensors, such as the steering, braking, throttle and the car’s movement, and combines them with music that complements these inputs. According to Mercedes Chief Technology Officer Marcus Schäfer, Sound Drive offers a way “to experience music in the car in a different way when driving the car, and having a new relationship between the car and customer, something that’s very emotional.”

Mercedes has also worked with streaming services Amazon Music and Audible to enhance the experience of listening to audiobooks in the car. It uses the industry standard Dolby Atmos audio system to create concert hall-style acoustics that will boost the quality of spoken-word audio and music.

In-car gaming is already available on the latest E-Class, but Mercedes has added a streaming service from Antstream Arcade so that users can play retro games from the likes of Atari, Commodore and even the ZX Spectrum. It has developed its own game that was on show at CES in a Mercedes E-Class, too.

According to Schäfer, Mercedes is “Using the digital world to personalise the car, writing our own software and using AI to enhance things for the customer experience. We’re looking at a holistic experience - it’s the audio, the video, touch, even the smelling, using all of your senses.

“Everything is coming together [to create MB.OS] so that everything is integrated smoothly integrated without any hassle, and that’s the Virtual Assistant that we have created. Whatever your need is, then it knits everything together to make things easier.”

According to Schafer, the Virtual Assistant’s four different ‘empathy modes’ mean that the system can offer responses that either match or counter the driver’s mood.

Is AI a good thing in cars? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section...

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Senior test editor

Dean has been part of the Auto Express team for more than 20 years, and has worked across nearly all departments, starting on magazine production, then moving to road tests and reviews. He's our resident van expert, but covers everything from scooters and motorbikes to supercars and consumer products.

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