The new S-Class strikes me as throwing the kitchen sink at the next generation of “luxury” cars. Mercedes-Benz crammed into its new model its state-of-the-art interior and ADAS features and enabled its autonomy to Level 3. But it doesn’t suggest a strategy for holistic software and hardware platform design...
There were several things about Mercedes-Benz’ new S-Class launch last week that didn’t sit well.
First, the German carmaker got me confused: Exactly what year is this?
Daimler’s announcement on the new S-Class vehicle — expected to be priced over $100,000 — evidently ignored or preferred not to acknowledge the dire straits of the automotive market in the pandemic era. As Egil Juliussen pointed out in his Egil’s Eye column in EE Times, in the “Covid economy,” global auto sales have “dropped like a rock and will remain well below recent yearly sales for five years and possibly longer.”
I suspect I’m not the only reporter to do an eye-roll at the news that Benz’s luxury sedan comes with 30 loudspeakers and “Hey Mercedes” a language assistant supposedly fluent in 27 languages. Also, by the way, there are 19 motors to adjust the passenger seats and run ten different massage programs.
Second, the new S-Class strikes me as throwing the kitchen sink at the next generation of “luxury” cars. Mercedes-Benz crammed into its new model its state-of-the-art vehicle interior and ADAS features and enabled its autonomy all the way up to Level 3. But it doesn’t suggest a strategy for holistic software and hardware platform design. As the new S-Class stands now, all the bells and whistles are an amalgam of “add-ons” or band-aid like ECUs.
The new vehicle comes with the advanced Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MUBX) system, thanks to three units of Nvidia’s second-generation “Xavier texture processing cluster (TPC) SoCs,” according to Daimler’s spokesperson. However, the company did not use Nvidia to enable ADAS in the S-Class vehicle. Instead, she noted, “Our hardware was designed to allow benchmark L2 functionalities and already be scalable for L3 applications — both being programmed by our SW-experts in-house.”
But this could all change, since Mercedes-Benz and Nvidia cut a new partnership deal late in June.The plan is for Nvidia to develop an in-vehicle computing system architecture designed for software-upgradable ADAS vehicles scheduled for rollout in 2024. But this plan begs the question of whether the S-Class ADAS software and hardware — presumably internally developed — will occupy an island of its own.
Third, anyone entertaining the notion that this new S-Class might be Daimler’s answer to catch up with Tesla can put that dream to rest. New S-Class sedans are still burning gasoline. Although there are S-Class hybrid models, Daimler’s rollout of all electric vehicles, the EQS, won’t happen until next year.
Emphasis on ‘luxury’
During a virtual press conference , Ola Källenius, the chief executive of Daimler, declared, “This is such a special occasion featuring a very special car.” He boasted that the new S-Class is “the icon of luxury sedans — and the heart of our brand.”
No doubt the new S-Class will embody “luxury,” with its “high-quality materials” and “yacht-inspired design concept,” as described by Daimler.
Given an estimated sticker price over $100,000 (Daimler has not announced the price), this is a vehicle stuffed with all the technology money can buy. Phil Magney, founder and principal at VSI Labs, told EE Times, “This is a beautiful car, whose interior is absolutely loaded with technology.” Stating the obvious, though, Magney added that “the rich are getting richer… and this isn’t a car for typical customers.”
Target customers? NBA hoop gods, CEOs like Jensen Huang, maybe pop superstars like Alicia Keys, as Huang and Keys both appeared in the new S-Class promotional video.
Of course, it’s unfair to blame Daimler for being tone-deaf to the Covid economy, given the long development cycle demanded by automotive design and engineering.
It’s a “very well executed, stately vehicle,” to be expected from Mercedes-Benz, Magney explained. But the new S-Class is “an evolutionary car,” not a radical departure.
Asked if S-Class would attract Tesla fans, Magney flatly said, “No.” Why?
First, he noted, Tesla fans are very loyal to Tesla. Second, Tesla is already reducing prices, closer to half the S-Class cost. Third, Daimler might know luxury cars, but it’s still figuring out “electric luxury cars.” The gas-guzzling S-Class vehicle feels a little out of touch. Fourth, Magney added, “When it comes to the state of the art, nothing compares to Tesla.”
Interior of S-Class
Distinctive in the redesigned flagship S-Class sedan is a host of upgraded technologies inside the car.
The interior can be decked out with up to five screens, OLED displays, and 3D displays. According to Mercedes-Benz, two different head-up displays (HUDs) are available on request. The larger HUD provides augmented reality (AR) content. “When navigating, for example, animated turn-off arrows (“fishbones”) are virtually and precisely projected onto the road lane,” said the company.
Danny Shapiro, Nvidia’s senior director of automotive, boasted in his blog that the S-Class sedan “features the all-new MBUX AI cockpit system, with an augmented reality head-up display, AI voice assistant and rich interactive graphics to enable every passenger in the vehicle, not just the driver, to enjoy personalized, intelligent features.”
Citing the three Nvidia SoCs designed into the S-Class, Shapiro told EE Times in a phone interview that one drives the instrument cluster and center stack, another handles the HUD and OLED screens, while the third enables interactive features on the rear seats. “For the first time, a person sitting in the back seat can do a search and provide that information to the driver.”
Although Nvidia’s chips aren’t used for ADAS, Mercedes-Benz is leveraging Nvidia technology to consolidate the ECUs and switches that “perform basic functions, such as powering entertainment or adjusting temperature,” Shapiro wrote in his blog. This resulted in “Mercedes-Benz removing 27 switches and buttons — to simplify the architecture while creating more space to add new features.”
What about ADAS?
Evaluating the ADAS sensors in the new S-Class vehicle, VSI Labs’ Magney was impressed.
He told EE Times, “From a sensor standpoint this car has terrific situational awareness as there is sensor diversity not normally seen in series production yet — lidar, stereo camera, thermal, radar, HD maps, etc.” He added, “What’s more is that the visualizer on the instrument cluster gives the driver an abstract view of the car, lane lines and other road users including cars, trucks and bikes. This information for the driver is very useful and improves the safety of the system and assures confidence to the driver.”
Magney noted that the standard ADAS package looks very robust. It includes:
Clearly, this is an imposing list of sensing technologies. Magney added, “Of course, we don’t know how the overall ADAS features function until we test the car.”
Daimler also announced a Level 3 “Drive Pilot” option for the new S-Class. Danny Kim, VSI Labs’ partner and director, regards Daimler “confirming L3 ‘eyes-off’ driving system (Drive Pilot) as the biggest news.” Although it is not being produced quite yet, when it does, “it is a technology milestone,” he noted.
Daimler’s spokesperson acknowledged that “Drive Pilot is a dedicated option, which contains HW add-ons.
Additional hardware required for Drive Pilot include “lidar, thermal, HD maps and extra compute and redundancies,” noted Magney.
Inside the Drive Pilot add-on package are:
Magney listed as “notable features” L3 conditional eyes-off driving system (<60kmh) and Night View Assist Plus (using thermal cam for passive ADAS)
Naturally, Level 3 features require the vehicle to have a driver monitoring system (DMS). When asked about its DMS hardware and software, Daimler’s spokesperson, without naming suppliers, said, “We also use the infrared stereo camera for the driver monitoring system. This monitors alertness and fatigue by using a special software.” Further, she said, “The new S-Class is equipped with the latest generation of Mercedes-Benz Attention Assist. The classic steering wheel angle-based algorithm is extended by a so-called ‘mircosleep’ detection based on the analysis of the driver’s eyelid closure signal provided by a driver monitoring camera in the instrument cluster.”
L3 autonomy, however, doesn’t come without controversy, including regulatory issues and liability laws. Nonetheless, VSI Labs’ Kim explained that UNESCO’s World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations approved a set of regulations that will enable Level 3 driving beginning January 2021. He added that although Mercedes-Benz’ Drive Pilot in theory meets European requirements, “this system will be under the approval process until next year.” As liability issues kick in, this will require “national road traffic regulations that allow the driver to use L3 system.”
Daimler also claimed that S-Class drivers “can park and unpark the car via smartphone with remote parking assist.”
Asked about self-parking, Magney noted, “What we have with Mercedes is a true valet system so it can take the car a greater distance from within a parking structure, and to do this safely as it works in conjunction with the Bosch garage infrastructure.”
Mercedes said the new S-Class has onboard technology to enter and leave multi-story car parks equipped with an Automated Valet Parking infrastructure, in highly automated mode and without a driver,” if national legislation permits such operation.
Recognizing the driver
During the announcement, Daimler stressed the importance of personalization, revealing that S-Class vehicles can identify a driver via fingerprint and a face recognition. Do drivers have to use both?
The Daimler spokesperson said, “For authentication in the vehicle or to call up the respective profile with up to 800 saved parameters, we use facial recognition and fingerprints for the driver. On top of this, there is also the possibility of calling up the profile with your voice… You can call up your profile with the sentence ‘Hey Mercedes, load my profile.’ Of course, you can also save a 4-digit PIN.”
“It is up to the driver which technology he (or she) wants to use for identification,” she noted.