CES 2021: Mercedes-Benz Driving In-Cabin AI & Software-Defined Vehicles

Article By : Junko Yoshida

CES 2021 has clarified an emerging theme among automakers: First comes in-cabin AI, followed by software-defined cars...

CES 2021 has clarified an emerging theme among automakers: first comes in-cabin AI, followed by software-defined cars. Mercedes-Benz is typifying that trend by integrating in-cabin AI into its upcoming EV model with a user interface that qualifies as state-of-the-art (for the time being).

The company showed off a single gigantic Gorilla Glass display that unifies three screens: instrument cluster, infotainment, and passenger displays.

Called Mercedes-Benz User Interface (MBUX) Hyperscreen, the new 141-centimeter screen (about 4.5 feet) extends pillar-to-pillar across the entire cabin.

MBUX Hyperscreen incorporates three screens — instrument cluster, infotainment and passenger displays — into one. (Source: Mercedes-Benz)

However, as Mercedes-Benz chief Ola Källenius claimed during the company’s CES press conference, size isn’t everything. “This is a user interface that does not distract the driver.”

With its MBUX Hyperscreen, the German carmaker’s is evidently maneuvering to one-up Tesla, seeking to lure EV customers toward Mercedes-Benz’ upcoming EVQ.

Instrument cluster for the driver. (Source: Mecerdes-Benz)

Zero layer
MBUX Hyperscreen, to be integrated in EVQ, offers a “zero layer” interface. By “zero layer,” the German carmaker means drivers need not to scroll through sub-menus or enter voice commands to access a needed display. Common tasks are programmed to be immediately available. Navigation is always at the center of the screen, the company explained.

(Source: Mercedes-Benz)

Further, the MBUX Hyperscreen has an AI software trained to learn each driver’s preferences and habits, Mercedes-Benz promised. Central to that capability is an underlying architecture supplied by Nvidia’s hardware and software platform.

(Source: Mercedes-Benz)

Partnership between Mercedes-Benz and Nvidia
Mercedes-Benz already uses Nvidia’s chip to enable AI voice assistant, AV cockpit, interactive graphics and an augmented reality head-up display in its flagship S-Class vehicles.

Neither Mercedes-Benz nor Nvidia, however, has disclosed the specific chips designed into EVQ. The only hardware components Mercedes-Benz unveiled so far are: 8-core CPU, 24GB RAM and 46.6GB/second memory bandwidth. The in-vehicle instruments are running on Linux.

That said, “in-cabin AI is one of the clear trends among OEMs,” observed Danny Shapiro, Nvidia’s senior director of automotive. AI enables carmakers to offer an interface that shows information relevant to the driver and occupants, with alerts specific to the time of day, explained Shapiro. The AI-driven UI customizes information by studying and remembering user behavior. Shapiro also mentioned that the smarts in the UI work not just for the driver and co-driver, but also passengers.  As Källenius noted during the press conference, “UI will find you.”

Software-defined cars
In addition to in-cabin AI, emerging as the new direction for many carmakers at CES 2021 is a desire to offer “software-defined vehicles” — a la Tesla — capable of over-the-air updates that can add and activate new features to the vehicles customers already purchased.

Mercedes-Benz is no exception.

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Building on their long partnership, Mercedes-Benz and Nvidia have embarked on “a much bigger project,” said Shapiro. In a deal announced in June, the companies will put Nvidia’s Orin — a software-defined platform — into every automated Mercedes-Benz driving system starting in 2024. That’s also the time frame Mercedes-Benz is planning to launch its own MBUX operating system.

The Orin SoC, which consists of 17 billion transistors, integrates Nvidia’s next-generation GPU architecture and Arm Hercules CPU cores, in addition to new deep-learning and computer vision accelerators. That SoC, although not yet complete, will be the linchpin of  Mercedes-Benz’s autonomous future.

Nvidia isn’t alone in pursuit of enabling “software-defined” or “user-defined” vehicles.

NXP just announced BlueBox 3.0, a new development platform for car OEMs looking to add a wider portfolio of “user-defined” applications and AI.

Nvidia has been on that path since late 2019 when it unveiled its Orin. According to Nvidia, Orin is designed to handle myriad applications and deep neural networks, while achieving systematic safety standards such as ISO 26262 ASIL-D.

Leading up to CES 2021, Nvidia disclosed that leading Chinese EV makers — Nio, Li Auto and Xpeng — have chosen to develop their intelligent electric fleets on Nvidia Drive. Nio and Li Auto will be using Orin in their future vehicles. Xpeng is producing new EVs based on Nvidia’s Xavier SoC.

In a recent global event, Nio unwrapped its ET7 sedan, which starts shipping in 2022 and features Adam, a new Nvidia-powered supercomputer that uses Orin to deploy advanced automated driving technology.

“Every carmaker that has a desire to develop a Tesla-like software-defined vehicle is turning to us,” claimed Nvidia’s Shapiro.

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