30 April 2020
30 April 2020
Not since Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz invented the automobile has there been a more exciting time in the car industry.
Electrification and autonomous driving technologies are giving engineers and designers freedom to push the boundaries. For the past century cars have evolved steadily, but we are now seeing huge leaps forward as this new technology changes not only the way we drive, but also the way we don’t.
Autonomous driving is advancing rapidly and will reach a stage where we will be able to sit back and relax while our car takes us where we need to go. Mercedes-Benz has already begun working on this future reality, investing millions in creating new ways to make travelling in its cars even more enjoyable. One of the biggest areas of growth the company sees is in-car gaming.
The next iteration of driving games
At the 2019 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, a Mercedes-Benz CLA Coupé attracted significant attention because it had been converted into a life-size gaming console. It used the vehicle’s standard Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) infotainment screen to display a classic arcade kart racing game, but instead of using a controller pad the car’s own controls – steering wheels, accelerator and brake – were linked to the virtual go-kart on the screen.
And that’s only the beginning. Mercedes-Benz is exploring ways to make its seat heaters suddenly activate to simulate an in-game explosion, tighten the seat belt if you crash on-screen, and even use the Air Balance system to release specific scents to enhance the experience further.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be limited to driving games. We’re all guilty of ‘air drumming’ when we’re waiting at the traffic lights. Imagine if your steering wheel had haptic sensors that allowed you to turn your car into a virtual drum kit, with the sounds played through the speakers.
It may sound like sci-fi fantasy, but in-car gaming like this is entirely possible thanks to autonomous and drive-by-wire systems. The introduction of advanced infotainment systems such as MBUX only makes it easier.
Changing in-car entertainment
Sven-Eric Molzahn, one of the developers responsible for this technology, says the CLA Coupé project was just a glimpse of what MBUX and in-car entertainment will be able to do.
“We’re basically working on a kind of plug-and-play system,” explains Molzahn. “Our aim is to enable everyone who knows even a little bit about software to program an application for his or her particular use case, which will then also run on MBUX.
“In order for that to happen, the hardware in the vehicles doesn’t have to be significantly adapted. This means that the game could run just as well in every series-produced vehicle. I think it’s realistic to expect that in a few years we’ll be able to customize MBUX by adding individual apps.”
This naturally raises the question of safety, because even the most advanced autonomous car may not be able to react to the random nature of the outside world. Mercedes-Benz has already considered this and is developing systems to ensure the driver can take control of the car if needed.
“We can always get the technology into the car somehow, that’s not a problem,” explains Dr Rose Sturm, a member of the Mercedes-Benz team working on the project. “But safety is the top priority. Even in the case of highly automated vehicles, we have to ensure that if a risky situation crops up, the driver can immediately intervene, and can switch from the game world to the real world.”
Rest assured – by the time in-car gaming becomes a reality in your next Mercedes-Benz, it will be as safe as it possibly can be. It will also be fun, engaging and unlike any car you’ve experienced before. So buckle up, because the future of the car is very exciting indeed.
By Stephen Ottley