The 2019 Mercedes CLA gets a major tech upgrade to make it the ‘ultimate wearable’

Mercedes-Benz has often reserved its best tech for its highest-class models — the S Class being the first vehicle to get the latest and greatest. Now Mercedes is bringing more tech, namely its new MBUX infotainment system, to other vehicles in its portfolio. Enter the new CLA Class. Mercedes-Benz unveiled Monday the new CLA at CES […]

Mercedes-Benz has often reserved its best tech for its highest-class models — the S Class being the first vehicle to get the latest and greatest. Now Mercedes is bringing more tech, namely its new MBUX infotainment system, to other vehicles in its portfolio.

Enter the new CLA Class. Mercedes-Benz unveiled Monday the new CLA at CES 2019 — a slightly bigger, sleeker, sportier and techier car than its predecessor in a direct appeal to a younger American customer.

The exterior of the new CLA hasn’t changed too much. The rear license plate has been moved down, and it has a bit more aerodynamic and sportier look, with a long stretched bonnet featuring powerdomes. It’s sportier and sharper looking.

The more exciting stuff is what’s inside the vehicle. Inside the CLA Class, Mercedes has put its new MBUX system, which debuted in the new A Class. The GLE-Class SUV also has the new MBUX system.

This system is a major upgrade from its old COMAND interface. It’s loaded with features such as augmented reality for navigation, the ability to understand indirect voice commands and operational gestures from the users. The new Interior Assistant, as Mercedes calls it, includes a robust gesture control system. 

In the dark, a reading lamp can be switched on and off by briefly extending a hand toward the rear-view mirror, for example. If the driver reaches over toward the unoccupied front passenger seat in the dark, it will be illuminated automatically, Mercedes said. The interior assistant includes a personal favorites function, which is accessed by holding a hand over the center console with the index and middle finger spread in a V-shape. A favorite command could be “‘navigate me home.” The driver and front passenger can even assign different favorites to the same hand position.

And then there’s the voice assistant, which can handle complex questions. 

Ola Källenius, Daimler AG board member responsible for group research and Mercedes-Benz Cars Development, demonstrated the voice assistant at CES. “Drivers can speak even more naturally,” he said, adding that the days of yelling at your voice assistant in the car are over. “It’s the ultimate wearable.”

The driver or passenger just needs to say “Hey Mercedes,” to engage the voice assistant. From there, they could ask for something as complicated as asking “Find child-friendly Asian restaurants nearby with 4-star rating which are neither Chinese nor Japanese,” an example Källenius gave during the demo.

Finally, there’s the “Energizing Coach.” This service is based on an intelligent algorithm. If a user is wearing the new Mercedes-Benz vivoactive 3 Smartwatch, which had its world première at CES, or another compatible Garmin wearable is worn, personal stats will be provided, such as stress level or quality of sleep. The user’s pulse rate supplied by the integrated Garmin wearable is also shown on the media display.

The CLA is an important vehicle for Mercedes in the U.S. market. Mercedes first launched the compact four-door coupe in 2013 as its smallest and least-expensive vehicle in its portfolio that customers could buy in the United States.

It was the first compact Mercedes-Benz on the American market. And while it wasn’t viewed as the best vehicle by some critics, it proved to be popular with U.S. customers.

“With the first CLA we celebrated a huge success by selling some 750,000 vehicles and created a totally new segment with a four-door coupé,” adds Britta Seeger, member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG, responsible for Mercedes-Benz Cars Marketing & Sales.

The automaker has recognized the need to give this vehicle a boost of tech, especially considering that on average CLA customers in the U.S. are around 10 years younger than the typical Mercedes-Benz customer.

And it has. As Mercedes puts it, all elements of the interior are arranged according to the “overarching design themes of ‘high tech’ and ‘youthful avant-garde.'”

Translated, this means designers ditched the cowl above the driver cockpit, giving the dashboard a grander look that continues uninterrupted. A widescreen display is completely free-standing. The youngs like screens.

The lower section is visually separated from the main body of the instrument cluster by a “trench,” and it appears to float in front of the instrument cluster. The ambient lighting enhances this effect. The air vents in a sporty turbine-look are another highlight.

The new CLA will be manufactured at the Kecskemét plant in Hungary and comes onto the market in May 2019.

CES 2019 coverage - TechCrunch

Great Wall Motors look to integrate Mobileye’s L0-L2+ self-driving solutions

Chinese automaker Great Wall Motors is exploring strategic collaboration with Mobileye . Through this deal, GWM hopes to integrate Mobileye’s solutions into its vehicles. Starting with L0-L2+ within the next three to five years, the companies are also exploring opportunities for Mobileye’s Level 3 products. The word comes at CES 2019 where Intel-owned Mobileye has […]

Chinese automaker Great Wall Motors is exploring strategic collaboration with Mobileye . Through this deal, GWM hopes to integrate Mobileye’s solutions into its vehicles. Starting with L0-L2+ within the next three to five years, the companies are also exploring opportunities for Mobileye’s Level 3 products.

The word comes at CES 2019 where Intel-owned Mobileye has a big presence alongside a large number of automotive technology companies.

GWM’s domestic market offers unique challenges for self-driving technology. Mobileye’s L0-L2 feature set focuses on driver safety and includes forward-collision warning, automatic emergency breaking and lane assist. Its L2+ is a bit more complex and features driver assist features that utilize Mobileye’s road mapping data, adaptive cruise control.

Initially the auto maker plans to build-in L0-L2+ technologies within domestic vehicles in the next three to five years. Eventually, though, GWM sees building some of the systems into vehicles headed for international markets.

CES 2019 coverage - TechCrunch

Audi spins out Holoride to put VR in every car

Audi has spun out a new company called Holoride that aims to bring a VR experience to the backseat of every car, no matter if it’s a Ford, Mercedes or Chrysler Pacifica minivan. Holoride was announced Monday at CES 2019 in Las Vegas. While Holoride says it’s an independent company, the roots of this startup […]

Audi has spun out a new company called Holoride that aims to bring a VR experience to the backseat of every car, no matter if it’s a Ford, Mercedes or Chrysler Pacifica minivan.

Holoride was announced Monday at CES 2019 in Las Vegas.

While Holoride says it’s an independent company, the roots of this startup are all Audi. The automaker holds a minority interest through subsidiary Audi Electronics Venture, which developed the technology. Audi will license the technology to Holoride and the startup will use an open platform to allow any automaker as well as content developers to create whatever reality formats they desire.

Nils Wollny, head of digital business at Audi co-founded Holoride with Marcus Kühne, who was project lead of Audi’s VR experience and Daniel Profendiner, a software engineer at the company. Wollny is Holoride’s CEO.

Holoride’s founding story didn’t have one single starting point. Profendiner and Kühne didn’t know each other. But both were working on the same patent application to use VR as a sales application and for simulation purposes. “We came to the same idea because we wrote the same patent,” Profendiner said, who then built a prototype to show Kühne.

Automotive at CES 2019 - TechCrunch

The pair introduced the idea to Wollny, who recognized a much bigger opportunity, the two said.

“Car entertainment today is limited, you have small screens, people get sick. Here we’re expanding this potential,” Profendiner told TechCrunch before a demo at CES 2019. “We wanted to create something that benefitted from moving.”

TechCrunch experienced what this VR future in the car might look and feel like. And it didn’t make either participant sick or nauseous. Part of the magic is that what users view through their VR headsets is matched with the movement of the vehicle. It’s what made TechCrunch guinea pigs Matt Burns, and myself, have trouble distinguishing just how fast we were moving while we had our VR headsets on. (It felt like 35 miles per hour during the 10 minute demo at Las Vegas Speedway. We learned the vehicle was traveling at speeds of up to 90 mph.)

AudiExperienceRide

The interesting piece is what Holoride plans to do with this tech. The company is keen on making this an open platform and agnostic in every way.

Holoride hopes to have a software development kit out by the end of the year that it can share to content and game developers. The SDK will serve as the interface to the vehicle data and transfer those into virtual realities. This allows the developer to create movies and games that will synchronize with the user’s motion as they sit in the backseat of a vehicle. Conventional movies, series or presentations can also be viewed with a significantly reduced chance of motion sickness, according to Audi.

Holoride plans to launch the VR entertainment on the market within the next three years using standard VR glasses for backseat passengers. The company sees other opportunities to expand and incorporate the surrounding environment, like a traffic jam, becoming a part of the experience. For example, stopping at traffic lights could introduce unexpected obstacles to a game or interrupt a learning program with a quick quiz, the company said.

CES 2019 coverage - TechCrunch