Mercedes-Benz teases new AI-powered infotainment system that gives you an empathetic virtual assistant – and it could reinvent the passenger experience

Mercedes-Benz Concept CLA Class
(Image credit: Mercedes-Benz)

Mercedes-Benz is readying itself for a busy CES 2024 show in Las Vegas in January, with the car giant teasing an AI-powered MBUX infotainment system among a handful of other concept cars and pieces of tech.

It claims the MBUX Virtual Assistant is "game-changing" in the way it combines high-resolution graphics from gaming specialist Unity, as well as the next chapter in its experimentation with Artificial Intelligence via its 'Hey Mercedes' voice assistant.

A single teaser image is all that has been revealed so far, with the interior of the brand’s Concept CLA Class, which will also be on display at the show, revealing a new graphic interface on the extended 'Superscreen' that now takes up the majority of the dash. 

According to Mercedes-Benz, its advanced AI-powered feature "combines the intelligent systems of MBUX into a single entity and presents an expressive new face to the customer with natural interaction," hinting that the infotainment system will now feature some sort of characterful 'face' when interacting with the built-in voice assistant.

This technology will also offer a demonstration of what is possible using the latest Mercedes-Benz-built Operating System, MB.OS, which Dr. Michael Hafner (Vice President MB.OS Base Layer and MBUX) says will "perfectly link the vehicles with the cloud and the IoT, and comprise four central domains: Powertrain, Autonomous Driving, Infotainment and Body and Comfort Systems".

There is little additional information on the updated Voice Assistant, with the German brand understandably keeping its cards close to its chest prior to the big reveal at CES 2024. 

However, Ola Källenius, Mercedes-Benz’s CEO, hinted that the AI-powered virtual assistant will "reinvent the digital passenger experience" and that it "includes empathetic characteristics that sync with your driving style and mood," suggesting that the voice assistant can change personality depending on the driving mode selected.

Is this Merc's idea of future luxury?

Mercedes-Benz Concept CLA Class

(Image credit: Mercedes-Benz)

We’ve already seen the heavily-illuminated Concept CLA Class that will grace the Mercedes-Benz stand at CES 2024 early next year, but does the announcement of increased AI within its vehicles hint at what the German marque feels will equate to a 'premium' in-car experience in the future?

The advent of EVs has arguably leveled the automotive playing field, and a number of 'legacy' luxury brands are struggling to cut through the introduction of a number of excellent electric start-ups (Lucid is just one example), as well as previously budget brands, such as Kia and Hyundai, continuing to push upmarket.

It seems Merc's Superscreen-clad interior could be its answer, with a humanized personal assistant offering to take care of the mundane daily tasks while the owner dispatches the morning commute. You no longer just purchase a car, but a life admin companion, it seems. 

It's an interesting take, but can screens, AI and gaming engine graphics really create the 'timeless' and inimitable ambience that those in the luxury market typically look for? I’m not so sure, and I am convinced that this is further proof that the endless digitalization of the automobile is going to reset what defines a premium auto maker in the future… and it's an issue that currently has the establishment reeling. 

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Leon Poultney

Leon has been navigating a world where automotive and tech collide for almost 20 years, reporting on everything from in-car entertainment to robotised manufacturing plants. Currently, EVs are the focus of his attentions, but give it a few years and it will be electric vertical take-off and landing craft. Outside of work hours, he can be found tinkering with distinctly analogue motorcycles, because electric motors are no replacement for an old Honda inline four.