Hey, Mercedes Is Making Upgrades To Its MBUX Infotainment System


Mercedes-Benz is continuing its drive to upgrade its MBUX platform—the brains of its in car suite of features and services. The never-ending end game is to better help drivers navigate their daily lives while they’re on the go by providing easy access to a wealth of data and information, entertainment options, and much more.

A driver has many ways to access the MBUX feature set in a Mercedes, with buttons on the steering wheel, a touchscreen interface, gesture control, and voice assist. But it’s the voice assistant, when paired with ever improved artificial intelligence algorithms, that Benz and parent company Daimler see as having the most potential and appeal for buyers.

What MBUX Learns About You

Short for Mercedes-Benz User Experience, MBUX uses AI to learn the driver’s behavior, is highly customizable, and works to adapt to and anticipate the user’s needs. For example, if the car recognizes that the driver calls the boss daily on the way to work, it will proactively pull up the phone number for them.

Mercedes is focusing on expanding the breadth of MBUX and is working hard to better understand natural language—meaning the normal way people talk, in native dialects, and using common phrases and ways of giving commands. In China, for example, the voice assistant now recognizes four dialects including simplified and formal Cantonese.  Mercedes is now making the Voice Assistant available in 23 languages.

I Want Asian Food But Not Sushi

The MBUX operating system is also getting better at understanding more complex demands, such as finding an Asian restaurant that does not serve sushi but does have free Wi-Fi, all of which would be tough to manually enter on a touchscreen, said Nils Schanz, head of User Interaction Voice Control at Daimler AG-Mercedes-Benz, in a call with media.

Other upgrades for Chinese consumers include the ability to order and pay for food delivery, so it is waiting at home or work. They can even order their movie ticket and select a seat while driving to their smart home and opening the garage door, all done via the MBUX system.

MBUX Rich Content Is Mind Boggling

Mercedes wants MBUX to stand out from the crowd for its rich content, Schanz said, and he’s not kidding. The range of available information that MBUX offers is becoming mind-boggling. It not only offers news, sports, weather, information about your vehicle and navigation, but it can also locate charging stations if you’re driving in, say, its EQC all-electric powered SUV. In addition, there’s the aforementioned ability to order movies and food, or you can check on a flight or train schedule, get information about points of interest, holidays, and school vacations, or access a dictionary and Wikipedia. In Europe this winter, the system also added snow reports for skiers.

Some of the other features on offer include: air quality alerts, a calculator, currency converter, calendar, horoscopes, zodiac signs, movie and TV information, poems, stories, internet radio, online music, solitaire and quizzes, smart home, stocks, lottery, and tourist attractions.

MBUX Has Hit “The Nerve”

The MBUX platform was introduced in 2018 on the A-Class and has proliferated across the portfolio since. While many of the newest updates to it are originating in China and Europe, they will roll out to all regions and all vehicles eventually. Mercedes hasn’t released the full North American rollout timeline yet, but the refreshed 2020 E-Class revealed earlier this year will have the latest version of MBUX.

“I think voice AI is the future in technology and automotive,” said Schanz. He backs this up with some convincing data that found 80 percent of Mercedes users say voice is the most important control element in the car; 83 percent of consumers believe voice commands make it easier to search for information, and 89 percent said voice commands make searches faster. “More than 80 percent of our vehicles are equipped with MBUX because the customers order it. This shows that we have hit the nerve.” Currently, Voice Assistant is an option, and Shanz said Mercedes will continue to offer the most advanced aspects of MBUX as optional equipment.

There is a compelling business case, as well. Schanz said that consumers will make an estimated $40 billion in purchases through smart speakers by 2022, and Mercedes forecasts automotive AI hardware, software, and services will grow from $2 billion to $26.5 billion by 2025.

Pros and Cons of MBUX

MBUX has received mixed results so far from the editors here at MotorTrend. While impressive, MBUX can sometimes be hard to use given that there are so many functions buried in submenus. But those criticisms center on the touchpad. The voice commands and touchscreens get high marks.

One pet peeve: The “Hey Mercedes” prompt that activates the voice assistant comes on whenever it hears the word “Mercedes.” At least in our experience, that word has a tendency to be brought up during the course of normal conversation. Granted, we talk a lot about the cars we drive, but it is annoying to be interrupted by the polite voice wanting to know how the car can help.

Eliminate ‘Hey Mercedes’ Voice Prompt?

Speaking of that sometimes pesky prompt, Schanz said the Mercedes team is exploring the option of removing a wake-up word. Although there are no plans to change the trigger word at this stage, the automaker is working on technology to get rid of the need for a word at all. “We are looking for a solution, but we are not convinced we need to change,” he said. He also believes customers are split on how proactive they want the AI-based elements of MBUX to be.

Part of the goal is greater ease of use as Mercedes continues to refine and improve MBUX, with most of the work done in house so it can react faster to changing consumer demands. Shanz and Mercedes recognize it’s all about the interface. Thus far, MBUX has managed to dodge the historical criticism that BMW, for example, took for its original clunky iDrive, Ford did for it bug-plagued MyFord Touch, or Cadillac got for the bumpy rollout of its CUE system.

MBUX Still Works with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto

Mercedes will continue to make its system compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, though Schanz said only 10 percent of its customers use Apple CarPlay. Most prefer MBUX, which can do so much more, such as turn on the massaging seats. “We have clear advantages,” he said. That divide might grow deeper, given the continuing investment Daimler is ploughing into MBUX to make it ever better. “We won’t block CarPlay, our goal is to have a better system,” he added.

Schanz said that while the MBUX software is available to all regardless of the car’s price point, the key difference is hardware: More expensive vehicles could have better equipment such as larger screens with greater resolution and more features. But the overarching goal is the same: offer a world-class system in MBUX that is updatable and easy to use with the best graphics, intelligent learning, and voice assistant with natural language recognition on the market. To that we’ll say, Hey, Mercedes, that’s a good goal to have.

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