Mercedes-Benz embraces the touchscreen in the new version of MBUX

Technology

Mercedes-Benz has unveiled the second generation of its MBUX infotainment system that will debut in the 2021 S-Class, which features a new touchscreen-forward user interface that requires fewer buttons. It’s all powered by a new hardware suite that adds functionality and features across the car, like improvements to the “Hey Mercedes” voice command system, pseudo-3D display technology behind the steering wheel, and new personal profiles that can be accessed via a fingerprint sensor or facial and voice recognition.

First revealed in early 2018, MBUX (short for Mercedes-Benz User Experience) is one of the more capable automaker-created infotainment systems on the market. But it has so far been shoehorned into vehicles that were designed with button-based user interactions in mind. That has led to some awfully cluttered cabins, even in Mercedes-Benz’s most futuristic car, the all-electric EQC.

That will change starting with the 2021 S-Class. The new luxury sedan — due to be revealed in September — features a large 12.8-inch portrait OLED touchscreen with haptic feedback that rises up from the center console instead of being embedded in the dashboard, like in previous Mercedes-Benz cars (and most others on the market). The screen “floats” in front of of a mostly button-free dashboard, and sits just to the right of a steering wheel that still has buttons but looks much sleeker than previous iterations. In total, Mercedes-Benz says there are 27 fewer “hard keys” in the new S-Class.

The new MBUX will let drivers save various preferences like seat settings, interior lighting color, favorite radio station, and more. These personal profiles can be enabled or disabled by using the new security features, or even loaded in other Mercedes-Benz vehicles with the new version of MBUX. The the fingerprint sensor in the main S-Class touchscreen and voice recognition will come standard, and there is a PIN setting as well. Buyers can opt for a version of the car with cameras that allow for facial recognition, too.

In front of the driver is a large, rounded rectangle of a display that is home to the digital instrument cluster. Like the center screen, this one also “floats” away from the dashboard. Drivers can tweak the color, layout, and overall presentation of information like speed, power output, and driver assistance features.

What’s more, Mercedes-Benz says this display can create an impression of depth without special glasses, sort of like what RED promised with its Hydrogen One smartphone, or Amazon tried once upon a time with the Fire Phone.

The automaker says it is an “auto-stereoscopic display,” and that, when working in concert with the facial recognition cameras, it can create a three-dimensional impression of objects on the screen. The screen itself is a combination of conventional LCD display technology and “a special pixel structure and a controllable LCD aperture grille” that makes it so the driver’s left and right eyes see “different pixels of the LCD.”

Mercedes-Benz doesn’t say what this technology might be used for, or what kinds of benefits it could provide — which is disconcerting considering it’s an idea that failed to provide any usefulness the case of those two doomed smartphones from RED and Amazon.

Behind this screen is a heads-up display that can project augmented reality info (like turn-by-turn directions) onto the windshield so that it appears to be floating about 33 feet out in the driver’s vision.

Mercedes-Benz is also improving one of the central features of the original version of MBUX: voice commands. The new MBUX recognizes up to 20 different commands triggered by saying “Hey Mercedes,” and 27 languages are now supported. Smart home tech can be linked to this now, too, though Mercedes-Benz didn’t immediately clarify which systems will be compatible. Best yet, saying “Hey Mercedes” will no longer be necessary for some actions, like answering an incoming call.

Mercedes-Benz says that the S-Class can feature as many as three screens in the rear section (one for each passenger and a touchscreen in the rear center console), all of which are connected to the infotainment system up front. The company says this allows passengers to share content between the screens, or even do things like select or change the navigation route. Rear seat passengers will also now have access to “Hey Mercedes” voice controls. The car is equipped with “several” microphones that can discern who is speaking, and a system of lights that will signal which passenger the computer is responding to.

This is all running on a new hardware suite that includes a 320GB SSD, 16GB of RAM, and 50 percent more processing power than the previous version of MBUX. This system will be capable of over-the-air updates, much like previous MBUX-enabled cars, and Mercedes-Benz has promised to release more details as it leads up to the global reveal of the 2021 S-Class in September.