The automaker unveiled several in-car tech upgrades at Consumer Electronics Show 2024 in Las Vegas , including a generative artificial-intelligence-powered virtual assistant and a new Sound Drive audio experience that will be rolling out to its new vehicles soon. Additionally, new partnerships with Audible and Amazon Music will give Mercedes’ customers additional ways to listen to podcasts and audiobooks on the go.
CES 2024 marks the first appearance of Mercedes’ Concept CLA Class in North America following its debut at the IAA Mobility show in Germany in September. That concept previews the new Mercedes-Benz Operating System (or MB.OS for short), which will serve as the backbone of every interface in upcoming cars built on the Mercedes-Benz Modular Architecture platform. The MMA platform was designed first and foremost for electric vehicles, and as such, it will underpin four new models as the company debuts more new EVs. Mercedes describes its Concept CLA Class as a hypermiler with a claimed range of over 466 miles on a single charge (based on European testing standards, which are typically higher than EPA estimates) and an ultra-efficient battery consumption of 5.2 miles per kilowatt-hour.
Mercedes also showed off its new MBUX Virtual Assistant, which uses generative AI and MB.OS’s 3D graphics to further personalize interactions between users and the car. The operating system uses the Unity game engine to produce high-resolution graphics that match the MBUX Virtual Assistant’s responses and make use of the concept’s dashboard-spanning screen.
Mercedes-Benz claims that this latest version of its “Hey Mercedes”-summoned system is its most natural-sounding, humanlike virtual assistant to date. While no computer system is really capable of feeling or thinking for itself, Mercedes claims its MBUX Virtual Assistant has four different “personality traits” to give an empathetic-seeming response to the vehicle’s occupants: Natural, Predictive, Personal and Empathetic. Its predictive responses can learn from situational context and other inputs, and the response generated can guide what tone is used by the car’s voice to respond.
The MBUX Virtual Assistant’s “emotion” also gets reflected in an animated “living star avatar” that expresses various moods, such as calm or excitement. Animations that vary in intensity and movement also make it look like the car’s avatar is listening, thinking or speaking, or even delivering a warning. Of course, drivers can also tailor the system to their preferences in the system’s settings in case computer-generated “empathy” isn’t their style.
All of this graphical trickery enables the car to do some more useful stuff, too. The system’s Surround Navigation uses the car’s big screens to visualize in real time what the car’s systems “see” through its various sensors and cameras, and then blends that with route guidance and driver aids.
Not everything Mercedes-Benz is showing off at CES is a preview of the new MMA platform, however. The automaker’s new MBUX Sound Drive system is one feature that will be available through an over-the-air update for newer Mercedes-Benz cars starting in mid-2024. MBUX Sound Drive will allow the car’s sound system to react to how the car is being driven. Mercedes says things like acceleration, brake recuperation and turning will translate into sounds, turning the car into one big musical instrument.
Mercedes also announced a partnership with Amazon Music and Audible that makes full use of Dolby Atmos audio tech in Mercedes cars for an improved listening experience. Atmos adds height channels to surround-sound systems, meaning items that would be flying overhead in an audio track sound more realistic and believable. Dolby Atmos is integrated into Mercedes’ Burmester 4D and 3D systems, which are already available as options with the current-generation MBUX infotainment system.
This new partnership with Amazon — specifically its spoken-audio arm Audible — marks the first time that Dolby Atmos can be used with spoken audio in Mercedes’ cars. Audible and Amazon Music will be included as apps in the MBUX infotainment system to make accessing Atmos-ready audio as simple as it gets. While not all of Audible’s roughly 850,000 audiobooks and podcasts are designed for Dolby Atmos, the dozens of titles that are should at least sound really, really good.
New Mercedes-Benz E-Class and CLE cars with third-gen MBUX infotainment systems will get the ability to play Dolby Atmos audio stories as an over-the-air update planned for the third quarter of 2024, with a wider rollout thereafter. The automaker says select models produced starting in December 2023 and equipped with second-gen MBUX systems will come with Amazon Music in Dolby Atmos available.