No, this isn’t Tesla channeling its inner IKEA and asking its clients to complete the assembly process (in hoping they would do a better job than the company’s workers, which is entirely plausible), but the actual way the vehicle is intended to work. Yup, if it all goes to plan, the people who complained about the new Plaid’s yoke will end up missing it dearly. Luckily, there are few things we are more certain of than the fact the EV scheduled for a 2023 launch will either come with some sort of a steering device or not at all.
That leaves any serious tinkering with the human-machine interface for the concept car segment, something Mercedes-Benz seems to be very much aware of. Ten years ago, the infotainment system’s Graphics in any of the German manufacturer’s products mimicked an old radio, a testimony to the fact Daimler associated luxury with tradition and, generally speaking, the past.
One decade later, and we have the MBUX, touch-sensitive displays that spread almost the whole width of the dashboard, gesture control, and augmented reality head-up displays. And yet, Mercedes-Benz isn’t satisfied. After years of leading the automotive pack, the Stuttgart-based carmaker now finds itself in the unfamiliar position of having to play catch-up when it comes to onboard gadgets. Well, the Mercedes-Benz Vision AVTR is the company’s way of saying “we’re taking the lead”.
Using a large display to control all of the car’s functions, including those that previously required a steering wheel, is pretty revolutionary (granted, not in concept, but execution). Still, how could you one-up that? What is the next step? Vocal commands? Vehicles have those already, and smartphones do it better anyway.
The answer came from the medical field where they already use brain-computer interfaces (BCI) to turn people’s thoughts into palpable actions. Yes, you could call it “mind control”, though that’s a bit like calling Tesla’s advanced driver assistance system “full self-driving”. Oh, they do? Well, then at least we found out what name Elon Musk’s company would have used for this feature.
So, how does Mercedes-Benz’s “Full Mind Control Beta” work? Sadly, it’s not very practical since you need to wear an elastic band with sensors around your head and practice a bit of mental discipline. You’ll also need one minute of calibration (hopefully, only the first time you wear it) before any sorcery will happen, so it’s not exactly “strap and play”. That doesn’t make reading brain waves any less impressive, but it’s not like you can just think of anything, and the car will act on it. No, it’s much, much more limited than that. For now, at least.
Taking full advantage of the Vision AVTR’s full digital dashboard, the vehicle projects a few symbols on it, each with a certain action attached to it. The user then has to focus on one of the symbols, which will trigger a certain type of brain wave. The BCI device picks them up and, knowing what symbol the user is thinking of, performs the corresponding action.
Impressive, but if you think about it, pretty useless as well. If Mercedes-Benz was to implement this while vehicle still requires human control, then having someone think of a symbol while driving would undoubtedly take away from their attention toward the surroundings, essentially defeating the purpose.
The system would make more sense in a self-driving car, but then everyone in the car has their hands free to operate a classic touchscreen interface which, for the foreseeable future, is still quicker and allows for more complex actions.
Even so, the Mercedes-Benz Vision AVTR would definitely be Elon Musk’s type of car: a vehicle that takes a budding technology and implements it regardless of whether it’s ready for the masses or not. The only thing different is Mercedes-Benz does it on a concept while Tesla is experimenting on the road.
Anyone curious enough to try it is free to (travel to Munich and) visit the Mercedes-Benz stand at this year’s IAA Mobility that will open its doors to the visitors tomorrow, September 7. The carmaker has integrated the feature into its Mercedes-Benz Vision AVTR concept car (see the live pics in the gallery), the vehicle supposed to take humans, machines, and nature and convince them to live together happily.