You'll be able to talk to the next generation of cars and they will talk back, if Mercedes-Benz has anything to do with it. Edward Stephens reports.
Asking your car if you will need to take your raincoat with you the next day would, for obvious reasons, normally be a one-sided conversation.
But in the not too distant future if it’s a Mercedes-Benz you are talking to, you will get an answer.
The response will probably be something like: “No you won’t. There is no rain showing in your area tomorrow.”
It may sound like science fiction but it’s very much science fact. And should you want to know how the FTSE 100 is doing as you drive home, all you will have to do is ask.
You may remember the cult television series Knight Rider, in which the star was a thinking, talking car. Well now Kitt is not alone.
The ongoing development of Telematics in Mercedes vehicles is bringing everything you can do on your smartphone – and more – to the car.
The latest technology means that new apps will allow you when visiting a strange city, to ask your car for information on the best car park to use, find out how much it will cost and even what time it closes all before you arrive.
Having decided on the best one you simply ask the system to guide you to its location.
And, in a major bit of one-upmanship, the German luxury car maker has just become the first manufacturer to have full integration with Facebook on its vehicles. That means that, via Facebook, you can ask your Mercedes where any of your “friends” are at any given time and then get the vehicle to navigate a route to their location.
For a lot of people unrestricted access to information has become an indispensable part of their daily lives. And as more and more people are spending increasing amounts of time in their cars they are anxious to stay fully networked while on the move, and Mercedes is going that extra mile to ensure they can.
Customers can now get convenient in-car internet access in numerous models in the Mercedes range by ordering their cars with the COMAND Online multimedia system, introduced this year, for around £2,300 plus VAT.
And the inventor of the automobile is already working on the next generation with its seamless telematics strategy @yourCOMAND, which showcases the concept of a comprehensive “cloud-based” system in its new F125 hydrogen powered concept vehicle.
COMAND Online uses the drivers own smartphone as the means of accessing the internet, which means there is no need for a second SIM card, so any costs are charged through the existing mobile contract, which in many cases today includes a data flat rate.
Another good reason for using the mobile phone as the medium is that it’s normally around seven years before a car is replaced by its successor, while the newest phone is often succeeded within months of coming to the market.
“Our system uses the driver’s own end device, docked in via Bluetooth as the intermediary,” said Stephan Wolfsried, head of electrics, electronics and chassis at Mercedes-Benz Cars Development.
“This is another decisive advantage. When using the Mercedes-Benz apps or surfing the internet, COMAND Online is always as fast as the smartphone being used. And with regular users of the internet this is more likely than not going to be the very latest and most powerful model.”
More than a dozen new Mercedes-Benz apps will be available soon, including ones for Google Street View, Panorama by Google and even Twitter.
And if you configure a specific route or a point of interest on a PC using Google Maps you can now send this route to your Mercedes and upload it into the navigation system.
The COMMAND Online system uses its own specific server – the Daimler Vehicle Backend Server – to make sure all new apps are configured for optimum performance and automatically updates those already installed as well as installing new ones, so the driver isn’t having to pay regular visits to the dealer.
A completely cloud-based multimedia system is the company’s vision for the perfect COMMAND system of the future and this will allow drivers to call up the latest news tailored to their own personal requirements or even ask very specific questions of the navigation system.
“You will be able to issue an instruction to the system, for example to ‘take me to the highest church tower in Germany’ and it will guide you straight to the Minster in Ulm,” the company’s Director of Telematics, Ralph Lambert, explained.
I got a taste of the future when I sat in the F125 concept car in Stuttgart and tried out the 17-inch display screen which sits in front of the dashboard on the passenger side.
You operate the screen completely by hand gestures, so passengers sitting in the rear seats can , for example, call up the entertainment or navigation system, simply by using the appropriate hand movement, similar to the operation of the Xbox Conect games console.
In front of the driver on a separate screen is a 3D display of information he or she thinks relevant, including images of cars coming towards them and vehicles parked on the side of the road.
And while these features are at present only on a concept car the Mercedes-Benz boffins who live and work in Silicon Valley are confident that in the not too distant future you will be able to order it on whatever Mercedes-Benz model you choose to buy.