Mercedes-Benz new Silicon Valley R&D Facility
From smartphone integration and autonomous driving, to the establishment of a new R&D facility in Silicon Valley, Mercedes-Benz is betting on the technology of the future
Despite concerns about global growth in the automotive sector in 2013, Merecedes-Benz went on to achieve both a record number of vehicles manufactured (1.49 million) and record number of vehicles sold (over 1.4 million).
The luxury automaker also managed to end BMW’s two-year reign as America’s best selling luxury car brand in 2013. For the full year, Mercedes-Benz’s sales rose 14% to 312,534 units, 3,254 units more than BMW. Brand performance was led by the new entry-level CLA, and revamped mid-size E-Class and premium S-Class cars.
Mercedes-Benz revealed that 75 % of buyers of its new CLA model – priced from US$30,000 upwards – were new to the brand. Since the car’s debut in late September, sales totalled 14,113 units. “The CLA has been one of the best product launches we’ve done in 20 years,” confirmed Steve Cannon, CEO of Mercedes-Benz.
Though globally Mercedes-Benz still trails BMW and Audi based on units sold, the Daimler subsidiary is rallying resources to step into the next generation of luxury vehicles. Connected, autonomous and integrated, the brand is making bold strides towards the mobility of the future.
“ Mercedes managed to end BMW’s two-year reign as America’s best selling luxury car brand in 2013 ”
A New Facility
A key cornerstone of Mercedes’ commitment to innovation is the launch a new research and development site in Sunnyvale, Silicon Valley. Home to Google, Apple and Facebook, Mercedes-Benz first established a base there in 1994, the first automaker to do so.
The new facility aims to expand the automaker’s R&D capabilities, where one of its key aims will be the development of adaptive driving systems and autonomous vehicle technology. A Society & Technology Research Group based at the site will examine societal trends in the U.S, as researchers continue to investigate fuel cells and electric vehicles.
The choice of location is further testament to the convergence of automobiles and consumer technology. And indeed, a key focus for the brand is infotainment and telematics systems to enable customers to “continue their digital lifestyle inside their vehicles.”
The Silicon Valley outpost will also focus on user experience, in-car applications, wearable computing and driver assistance systems (Motor Authority).
Mercedes-Benz Digital DriveStyle App
Infotainment and connectivity are already a priority for the automaker, which hopes to create holistic experiences for Android and iPhone users, to ensure that seamless and automatic integration with its vehicles.
Mercedes-Benz updated its Digital DriveStyle App in December 2013, promising perfect integration for iPhone users into Mercedes-Benz vehicles equipped with Drive Kit Plus. An adapted iPhone menu is displayed on the in-vehicle display, allowing users to safely navigate the user interface of the car’s controller while driving.
The app allows drivers to remain connected to Twitter and Facebook, by reading aloud newsfeeds and enabling posting, tweeting, responding and re-tweeting. Music on the iPhone itself can be accessed, alongside access to friends’ favourite songs and Internet radio.
Best-in-class navigation powered by Navigon is complimented with speed limit assistance, voice prompted turn-by-turn directions and real time traffic information. 2D and 3D map displays can be chosen and 3D buildings and landmarks can be viewed. When using the app outside the vehicle, it can be used to locate the car and access odometer readings and fuel levels.
“ The Silicon Valley R&D facility will focus on user experience, in-car applications & wearable computing ”
Mercedes-Benz has taken the idea of integrated navigation one step further, by developing a new system compatible with Google Glass – the wearable computer with an optical display – to create a seamless transition between driving and life outside the car.
Mercedes’ head of North American R&D, Johann Jungwirth, told Automotive News “This is an example of a seamless transition as you stay connected when you get to your car, when you drive, and when you leave your car,” (Motor Authority).
In terms of navigation, this means a system whereby Google Glass will continue the vehicle’s satellite navigation directions once the driver has parked and exited the vehicle, taking them to the door of the destination. Mercedes-Benz is set to develop further functions in time, and will offer compatibility once Google Glass is commercially available.
Mercedes-Benz new Silicon Valley R&D Facility
The brand has also announced a wristwatch that connects with cars through the Internet and provides feedback on vehicle diagnostics and other vehicle-related notifications. Silicon Valley-based Pebble Technology developed the device, which connects with the Digital DriveStyle app and serves as a simultaneous transmitter and receiver of information.
Outside of the car, Mercedes-Benz drivers can review information from the watch, such as fuel level, door-lock status, and vehicle location. When driving, the watch will alert drivers of real time hazards such as accidents, road construction, or stalled vehicles by simply vibrating.
Drivers can also customize the three buttons on their watch to activate their favourite Digital DriveStyle app features. Mercedes-Benz has formed an alliance with Pebble Technology and, as a result, has early access to any application programming interfaces (APIs).
“ Google Glass will continue the vehicle’s satellite navigation directions once the driver has exited the car ”
Another priority for Mercedes-Benz is autonomous driving, an area where the brand is fast becoming a leader. The new S-Class made headlines as the first car in history capable of driving itself, though the car’s current autonomous mode is only suited for traffic jams and highway driving.
In August 2013 theS 500 INTELLIGENT DRIVE research vehicle successfully negotiated highly complex rural and urban traffic autonomously, on the historical Bertha Benz route covering some 100 kilometres between Mannheim and Pforzheim.
The prototype, equipped with the same camera and radar sensors already found on the production S-Class, had to deal with traffic lights, roundabouts, pedestrians, cyclists and trams without any human involvement. Engineers ‘taught’ the existing technology platform to know where it is, what it sees and how to react autonomously.
Smartwatch developed by Pebble Technology
Based on gathered sensor data and determination of the vehicle’s own position, with reference to information from a digital map, the prototype analysed the available free area for driving and planned its own route based on specific algorithms. Mercedes-Benz has committed to have the system ready for production by 2020.
The automaker is also looking to introduce Car-2-Object and Car-2-Car communication systems in its vehicles in 2014. The system will enable your own vehicle to warn you of an impending crash, or perhaps even take action to avoid one by knowing well ahead if there’s a potential hazard in the road ahead or approaching at the next intersection.
The car will electronically communicate with its surroundings via technology being developed by automakers around the globe, between individual vehicles as well as between vehicles and the traffic infrastructure. As the technology remains in its infancy, the system will initially work with the driver’s smartphone via the Digital DriveStyle app.
“ The new S-Class made headlines as the first car in history capable of driving itself ”
Technology is sure to play a crucial role in the future success of luxury automotive brands, as even mid market offerings begin to integrate the very systems that once differentiated luxury vehicles from the pack. And in the information age, consumers will expect such integration as a baseline feature of a luxury offering, not as an impressive addition.
With the establishment of the new Silicon Valley facility – and particularly, the creation of a ‘societal’ research team – Mercedes-Benz seems to have understood that the future of mobility will be just as much about continuing ones digital lifestyle inside a vehicle, as it is about driving from A to B.
And with ambitious plans to have fully autonomous cars on the roads by 2020, we have no doubt the brand will play a key role in championing innovation through technology in the coming years.
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