Will.i.am, AI Are Guiding Mercedes-Benz through the 21st Century

Jackson Wheeler
8 Min Read


  • Intent on staying relevant, Mercedes-Benz is debuting a few new technologies at the 2024 Consumer Electronics Show.
  • Namely, the MBUX Virtual Assistant will employ artificial intelligence in the form of a new virtual assistant with customizable voices and moods.
  • Plus, Mercedes is bringing back legendary rapper, singer, and producer Will.i.am to help fine-tune its new MBUX Sound Drive stereo system.

As the Consumer Electronic Show rolls around each year, there is often a theme or vignette of the freshly started New Year that accompanies it. So, it should come as no surprise that this year’s unofficial theme appears to be artificial intelligence and all the ways it is supposed to make our lives better.

The jury is largely still out on the long-term and scoped effects of these independently intelligent processing systems, but many automakers, including Mercedes-Benz, are eager to have their systems in the limelight. Launching its new MBUX Virtual Assistant, Mercedes says drivers’ lives will get a whole lot easier.

mercedes benz e class 2023 large glass surface with newly designed icons display content may differ from series status

Mercedes-Benz AG – Communications & Marketing

Mercedes’ MBUX Collectible NFTs shown here in an E-Class interior.

The backbone of this new assistance system comes from advanced software and the use of generative AI, which Mercedes claims will foster a natural and intuitive relationship between driver and car. If that wording is making you reminisce about Spike Jonze’s 2013 film Her, then you’re not that far off, either. Sans the romance, perhaps.

That’s because the new virtual assistant has four personalities, ranging from Natural and Predictive to Personal and Empathetic. Each personality will have its own unique voice and visual package, allowing the driver to tailor their preferred interaction style. You won’t have to say Hey Mercedes anymore, either.

Instead, the system will be monitoring the situation and environment at hand and can proactively offer suggestions or routines. Sounds like a lot of unsolicited advice, if you ask me, but at least prospective Mercedes drivers will have an avatar to direct their ire at.

Paired with the new voices, Mercedes is also offering a ‘living’ star avatar made up of advanced 3D graphics from the Unity game engine. This will seemingly be displayed on the infotainment screen and will express different moods and states of being. In fact, Mercedes says the avatar will even make specific movements to show it is listening.

Models like the Concept CLA Class will roll off the factory line with AI assistants late in 2024.

There are more practical applications of the new processing system, however. Known as MBUX Surround Navigation, Mercedes will integrate animated surroundings on the driver display using 3D graphics, even delineating between cyclists, cars, and buses. It will also show pedestrians on the curbside, akin to the detection system seen on Teslas.

The first Mercedes units to feature this new assistance system will be the vehicle family based on the forthcoming Mercedes Modular Architecture platform. Built on the MO360 digital production ecosystem, models like the Concept CLA Class will roll off the factory line with AI assistants late in 2024.

Implementing AI into its impending models is a smart move on Mercedes’ part, even if only for the buzz, but Mercedes is working on other ways to stay relevant in the 21st century, too. The Black Eyed Peas may be long gone, but enlisting the help of Will.i.am is sure to be a good sonic bet for the Stuttgart-based automaker.

This is not the first time Will.i.am and Mercedes have collaborated, but this go-round has the potential to be a real winner. That’s because the illustrious rapper, singer, songwriter, and record producer has lent his musical ear to Mercedes in developing its new MBUX Sound Drive stereo system.

mercedes benz concept cla class

MERCEDES-BENZ AG – GLOBAL COMMUNICATIONS MERCEDES-BENZ CARS & VANS

Mercedes continues to focus on extreme EV range figures, largely thanks to its focus on aerodynamics.

But this sonic experiment isn’t just about listening to your favorite tunes. At heart, the new Sound Drive system builds on the basic technology that is speed-based volume sensors. Instead of just focusing on speed, the system will now monitor all parameters of dynamic driving and create sounds from it, allowing drivers to create music of their own.

If that sounds a bit confusing, let’s hear Will.i.am out first.

the interior of a car

Mercedes

“We want digital innovation to bring a smile to our customers’ faces,” said Markus Schaefer, Member of the Board of Management of Mercedes-Benz Group AG, Chief Technology Officer.

“Imagine a world where your car can become an instrument creating musical journeys. I’m excited to see how composers, producers, and songwriters will harness this to create new works and reimagine classics for motorists to drive to. MBUX SOUND DRIVE is not only a new frontier for music creation, but also opens up fresh, exciting, and interactive listening experiences for drivers,” said Will.i.am.

And for those deeply invested in music production, Mercedes says a studio software will accompany the new system, aimed at feeding its open music platform. If all goes well, Mercedes foresees a digital forum of musicians sharing their creations from behind the wheel.

MBUX Sound Drive will roll out in mid-2024 and will be available on Mercedes-AMG and Mercedes-Benz vehicles equipped with the second-generation MBUX system. Current Mercedes customers can also take part in an over-the-air update to try out the new technology.

Rarely has Mercedes been accused of being behind the ball on the technology front in its 97-year run, and it seems intent on keeping it that way. From personable virtual assistants to musical production by way of exhaust note, the executives in Stuttgart maybe aren’t as stiff as we thought, at least while CES is going on.

Which of these two technologies are you most interested in? Do any of them freak you out? Why? Please share your thoughts below.

Headshot of Emmet White

A New York transplant hailing from the Pacific Northwest, Emmet White has a passion for anything that goes: cars, bicycles, planes, and motorcycles. After learning to ride at 17, Emmet worked in the motorcycle industry before joining Autoweek in 2022. The woes of alternate side parking have kept his fleet moderate, with a 2014 Volkswagen Jetta GLI and a 2003 Honda Nighthawk 750 street parked in his South Brooklyn community.

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Jackson Wheeler is a skilled editor at Speedofdaily.com, specializing in automotive content. With a background in Journalism and Automotive Engineering, he combines his passion for cars with his writing expertise to deliver captivating articles. Jackson's deep knowledge of automotive technology and his racing experience make him a valuable asset to the team, providing readers with informative and engaging content.
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