During the Nuance Automotive Innovation Day held March 7th in Palo Alto, CA, I had the opportunity to connect with Margarete Wies, Vice President Advanced UX Design at Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America Inc. Here’s what she had to say about the future of the connected car.
Fatima Vital: What is top of mind for automakers when it comes to next generation infotainment?
Margarete Wies: People are used to taking their digital lifestyles wherever they are. They don’t want their digital life to stop when entering a car. Our customers expect in-car infotainment that supports a seamless integration – an expectation accelerated by the Internet of Things. The vehicle infotainment system becomes the digital core of the car offering technologies to enhance safety, privacy and convenience. Future Mobility is not just about cars, it is about ecosystems.
FV: How have you viewed this rapid evolution of the connected car over the last few years and more importantly, the consumer appetite?
MW: Streamlining our lives by connecting the car to the Internet of Things is a rapid evolution we experienced in the last few years. As a reaction to our customers’ appetite we launched the Mercedes-Benz Companion App. This is a great example of how we integrated contextual intelligence into customers’ habits and are evolving with their digital lifestyle. In addition to door-to-door navigation, the new Companion App uses machine learning to provide a personalized user experience by learning from customers’ actions and their environment. It extends customers’ existing behavior on their mobile phone seamlessly into Mercedes-Benz vehicles.
With our Apple Watch app, we are extending the user experience even further by assisting our customers when they are outside of the vehicle as well. The user receives important notifications about his car, walking directions to the final destination and to the parking location of the car.
FV: There is a lot of content and information being brought in, built in and beamed into the car. Where do you see the biggest challenge from a UX point of view? And how is Mercedes addressing it?
MW: Managing complexity is a big challenge. Digitalization enables us to reduce complexity, to create more convenience, better accessibility and ease of use. Our user experience design plays a significant role and follows the Mercedes-Benz design philosophy of sensual purity, which conveys a sense of simple, purist modernity.
So for our role as creators and product makers, how can we create a better user experience while living with technology? We are addressing it through a natural interaction between the human and the machine, utilizing artificial intelligence for contextualization and personalization – providing technology only when needed. The car anticipates my actions and knows me in ways that delight. I’m still in control of the experience, supported by the intelligence.
Take the sensitive Touch Controls in the steering wheel of the new E-Class. Like a smartphone interface, they allow the driver to control the entire infotainment system using finger swipes without having to take their hands off the steering wheel, and with minimum driver distraction.
FV: As you look 5-10 years out, what is Mercedes’ vision for the connected and autonomous car?
MW: We see the car growing beyond its role as a mere means of transport. The interior of the vehicle becomes a contextual and highly personalized digital living space. The intelligence of the car allows for continuous exchange of information between vehicle, passengers and the outside world. The passengers in self-driving cars can use their newly gained free time while traveling for relaxing or working as they please.
Mercedes-Benz is setting the pace in Autonomous Driving: In 2013 with the “Bertha Benz Drive,” when the S 500 INTELLIGENT DRIVE research vehicle drove 100 kilometers along a historic route to demonstrate the feasibility of autonomous driving on both interurban and urban routes; In 2016 with the new E-Class, the world’s first series vehicle with test license for autonomous driving in Nevada; With the Mercedes-Benz F 015 Luxury in Motion research car and its groundbreaking aesthetics and technology, which we demonstrated at CES 2015 in Las Vegas to show what the self-driving car might look like once its shape has been emancipated from the need to have a driver.
New technologies such as artificial intelligence give us the opportunity to focus on human needs even more. We can use the time in our moving space in a more valuable way. The future car will offer you more flexibility and more quality time to do what you want.
FV: What would you personally enjoy doing in a fully autonomously driving car?
MW: Well, what makes our time in the car special? Maybe it’s the time we spend interacting with others. I would use my car as my “third place,” spending quality time with my family, using it for relaxing and entertainment, as well as for my office space.