Mercedes-Benz will roll out a next-generation user interface system starting this year, offering both drivers and passengers its cars new levels of interaction be it via voice, touch or conventional controls.

It's called the Mercedes-Benz User Experience, or MBUX for short, and it debuts in the next-generation A-Class hatchback due this spring.

We got our first look at MBUX on Tuesday at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show, where Mercedes Vice President Digital Vehicle & Mobility Sajjad Khan helped introduce the technology.

There are two large screens, one serving as the instrument cluster and the other as the main infotainment hub. These can be fully controlled via buttons and even small touch surfaces on the steering wheel. The infotainment screen itself is a touchscreen that operates the same way as a smartphone. On top of this, there is a touchpad that replaces the previous COMAND interface's rotary controller.

MBUX also brings new levels of voice activation. Numerous instructions can now be given using natural speech and the activation words “Hey Mercedes.” For example, simply stating “I'm cold” is enough to open up the climate control. You could also state, for example, “Do I need sunglasses tomorrow in Miami?” to know if the weather will be sunny in Miami the next day. As Kahn demonstrates in the video, interacting with the car can be done as easily as using Apple's Siri or Amazon's Alexa.

Mercedes-Benz MBUX user interface

Mercedes-Benz MBUX user interface

The voice control is also capable of learning. On the one hand it attunes to the user and his or her voice and also understands non-native speakers better; on the other hand the software models on the server learn new buzzwords or changing use of language with time. The system also no longer answers stereotypically, but varies in the dialog output too.

Speaking of learning, MBUX also benefits from artificial intelligence which can over time adapt the system to specific users based on their habits. For example, someone who regularly calls their mother on a certain day will be offered the suggestion in the future. Or someone who regularly switches to a radio station with news at a certain time also receives this as a suggestion. And if the navigation system detects a route frequently driven, navigation to this destination is started in the background and information on the route such as traffic updates can be provided. Artificial intelligence thus gradually turns the car into a personal assistant for the driver.

Mercedes says many of the screens are configurable and so the system stays up to date, over-the-air updates will be possible.

Users of the Mercedes Me app also have more functionality with MBUX. Many of these are still being developed but we do know of new navigation functions based on Car-to-Infrastructure (C2X) communication as well as a vehicle locating function, which makes finding a parked vehicle easier. The app will also be able to message the owner in case something has bumped into the parked vehicle or it has been towed away. The Mercedes Me app also sends a reminder to leave on time so as to arrive at the next appointment punctually, taking traffic conditions into account.

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