Mercedes-Benz, in conjunction with NVIDIA and Google, announced the future of AI-driven end-to-end automotive development this month. What they shared was a blend of metaverse creation (using NVIDIA’s Omniverse platform) coupled with an AI capability that is unmatched in cars today. It’s something that promises to create a deeper relationship between cars and their owners that’s more like our relationship with a well-trained pet and eventually becoming more like a digital friend as this capability advances.
Car manufacturers will use NVIDIA’s Omniverse tool to first create their factories and vehicles virtually, which will dramatically lower manufacturing costs and potentially increase the car’s perceived quality. While Mercedes will embed this technology in its top-of-the-line S-Class vehicles, it will rapidly trickle down to the rest of the lines right down to entry-level vehicles.
At the heart of this announcement is the MB OS, or Mercedes-Benz Operating System. With it, we are suddenly talking about cars as rolling computers. While the new Mercedes E-Class touches on these advancements, later cars will go even further. The E-Class can do video conferencing (Zoom, WebEx etc.) calls when parked, has a massive front screen, and the beginning of in-car intelligence in an admittedly very attractive package.
But rather than covering that car (which I have yet to see in person), let’s talk about the coming generation of cars that will be created first in simulation in factories (that were created the same way) and given supercomputer-level processing power to become what may be your first real digital companion or the most expensive TV you’ll ever buy.
The Mercedes-Benz, NVIDIA, Google car of the future
We begin with generative AI that will allow you to have a conversation with your car on topics of interest to pass the time when driving alone or to provide a discussion about how to use features, address problems or just find out more about the car and how it was made.
Entertainment will be increasingly integrated with the driving system. As autonomous driving matures, so will the ability to do video conference calls, play video games, or watch movies on the car’s massive, door-to-door dash screen. Pick your destination while in the home or office, have your phone guide you to your car or have your car come and pick you up, and use your smartphone as your car key which provides dual-factor authentication for access to the vehicle.
If there is a problem, the car will work to resolve it. Whether that is an accident requiring a police or ambulance response or a health emergency, the car will be able to read your smartwatch’s sensors to anticipate and respond to that emergency and take you quickly to the closest healthcare provider, EMT, or ambulance. In ambulance mode, the car should be able to tell law enforcement of the problem and request all other self-driving cars make way as they would for an ambulance, increasing the odds of you surviving the emergency.
If you have a mechanical problem, the car can discuss it with you either to help you fix the problem or to get help dispatched to you quickly if it is something requiring professional help. If you get into an accident, the car’s sensors will attempt to identify the other vehicle and capture a video record of the accident, sending both to your insurance provider while reporting the accident.
If there are new software features that can be enabled by the car, it will let you know what they are and you can purchase them through the car and have them automatically installed, avoiding a trip to the dealer. Most software updates will come in over the air.
If someone attempts to damage or steal your car, it will be able to report the activity, call for help, and record and upload the attempt as well as report where it is being taken if it is being towed.
Wrapping up: The automotive pet
In a way, with all of this supercomputer-level technology, the car will be evolving into more of a well-trained pet, but as it advances, it should evolve into an electronic friend that will want to know about and engage with you. This capability will need to move from car to car. Otherwise, many people may resist replacing their cars with a newer model.
The only feature that wasn’t discussed was inductive automated charging (robotic charging) which will allow these electric cars (this effort is focused on electric cars) to self-charge. Mercedes did announce a connected charging service called MB, which will provide a Tesla-like charging experience across non-Tesla chargers.
As this technology matures, we’ll come to know and love our ever-smarter cars much like we do our pets, but as the AIs advance, we’ll likely begin thinking of them more like friends or family. Ironically, this result isn’t that different from how our predecessors treated horses which were always self-driving. Just don’t try to feed your car a carrot. It will likely end badly.
One final comment: Many of this new generation of cars’ features will be subscription-based. Will drivers accept a monthly subscription cost (outside of those that rent or lease) on vehicles where they have rarely been used before outside of insurance and extended maintenance contracts? Whether buyers will accept a subscription fee on top of the purchase price was the only truly iffy part of this announcement