Automotive manufacturers have been talking about the benefits of software-driven vehicle platforms for a while now. A particular focus has been the ability to deliver services and applications over-the-air as and when customers demand, or when new revenue opportunities arise.
Addressing this, Mercedes-Benz has announced a preview of the work its software architects have done to create a complete operating system with chip-to-cloud architecture that would be central to every future product. Last week, the automaker previewed its own operating system, MB.OS, which will be introduced mid-decade with a new Mercedes modular architecture (MMA) platform. The OS is designed and developed in-house, which will allow Mercedes to retain full control over customer relationships, ensure data privacy, and utilize unique integration of all car functions.
Based on a purpose-built chip-to-cloud architecture, MB.OS benefits from full access to all vehicle domains: infotainment, automated driving, body and comfort, and driving and charging.
The first outing of this will be in the new E-Class model this year, also announced last week, which the company said is now more intelligent and achieves a new dimension of personalization and interaction. The computing functions of previously separate domains take place in a single processor. Screens and the Mercedes ‘MBUX’ infotainment system share a new, powerful central onboard computer. With the electronic architecture being more software-driven and less hardware-driven, this forms the basis for more individual updating of interior systems in the future.
In the new E-Class, infotainment is expected to be more immersive, drivers and passengers will have access to more apps that they are used to on their smartphones and desktops, there will be more integration with wearables to monitor driver well-being and safety, and more bio-informatics.On the infotainment side for example, the new E-Class will include access via the central screen to apps like TikTok, Angry Birds, Webex, Zoom, and the Vivaldi browser. In addition, the ZYNC entertainment portal will offer video streaming, on-demand content, interactive experiences, local video programs, sports, news, and games on the central and passenger displays, via one user interface. There is even a selfie and video camera feature on top of the dashboard which allows the driver (when the vehicle is stationary) to participate in online video conferences via Webex for example and take personal photos and videos. Sound visualization is another feature that Mercedes says the new architecture and software enable in the new E-Class. This allows music and sounds from movies or apps to be heard as well as felt using sound resonating transducers in the surround sound system, and also seen through active ambient lighting.
Also in the new E-Class models’ wellness program is the debut of a new feature called motion sickness prevention, which helps affected passengers alleviate symptoms using a bio feedback function. Vital data from additional wearables can be integrated and shown in the central display. Compatible wearables can highlight stress levels or quality of sleep to optimize the accuracy of the recommendations of the system to create the right conditions for the driver. Bio-feedback functions are also planned, providing interactive guidance on things like ideal inhalation and exhalation intervals, and adjustment of backrest angle, and other features.
MB.OS – connecting the entire value chain
MB.OS is designed to connect the major aspects of the company’s value chain, including development, production, omni-channel commerce and services – effectively making it an operating system for the entire Mercedes-Benz business. The company said the effects of MB.OS range from decoupling development cycles to enhancing customer lifetime value long after the original car purchase.
The new operating system will be standardized across the entire vehicle portfolio, fully updateable for rapid product upgrades and deliberately open for selected partners. While Mercedes-Benz defines and controls the architecture with its own hardware and software base layer, the integration of other technology players grants customers access to other services, content and functions.
Partners include Nvidia, which provides its software, data and AI expertise as well as its Orin system-on-chip to enhance benchmark SAE Level 2 and Level 3 automated driving systems. Vehicle variants will also be equipped with next-generation sensors, including lidar sensors from Luminar. Mercedes-Benz also announced a new long-term strategic collaboration with Google to develop and implement a next-generation in-car navigation experience embedded into MB.OS; this will enable access to real-time and predictive traffic information, and automatic rerouting, and other features. One specific aspect of this is precise and reliable range management for electric vehicles, made possible because MB.OS has access to all vehicle data such as state of charge and energy consumption.
Taking a step towards SAE Level 3
A comprehensive set of sensors will be available in the MMA platform, with the sensor setup designed to suit the demands of urban environments, specifically the presence of pedestrians and dense, complex traffic patterns. Where local regulations allow, Mercedes-Benz said its customers will be able to utilize automated driving features like hands-free driving while keeping the eyes on the road. In China, navigation-based system-initiated lane changes will also be available, based on a map data from the Chinese local partner AMAP.
The company said it is focusing on Level 3 conditionally automated driving with the ultimate goal of driving at speeds of up to 130 km/h in its final iteration. To achieve this, Mercedes-Benz has partnered with Nvidia to build fully programmable and updateable driving automation systems. The driving brain of the vehicle is the Nvidia Drive Orin system-on-chip, capable of conducting 254 trillion operations per second to process data from a suite of sensors surrounding the vehicle. The system’s eyes, or perception systems, alongside radar sensors and cameras, are lidar sensors from Mercedes-Benz partner Luminar. Luminar’s next-generation Iris sensor can recognize even small objects with low reflectivity in the infrared spectrum.
In China, Mercedes-Benz is engaging in a local cloud partnership with Tencent to support its automated driving systems. An enriched UI for automated driving functions including an advanced lane-level map view is planned.
Flexibility to offer upgrades and new revenue opportunities
Ultimately, the goal of software-defined vehicles is all about the flexibility to offer upgrades and new revenue opportunities. This is what MB.OS will enable: software-enabled upgrades. The OS decouples hardware from software, allowing for faster innovation cycles, increasing the flexibility and speed of updates. Everything will be fully connectable through the Mercedes-Benz intelligent cloud, which provides the basis for connected services for the entire vehicle fleet and allows the company to both protect and leverage customer data, as well as retain full control over all critical infrastructure.
The idea is then to provide customers with the chance to expand the functions of advanced driver assistance systems in their cars. All new models will have the necessary sensing technology on board to enable Level 2 assisted driving. Selected models can be ordered with enhanced assisted driving or Level 3 conditionally automated driving with a fixed-term contract. From 2025 onwards, certain functionalities can be upgraded over the vehicle lifecycle. To explore new functions and make purchases, customers can access the these via an app, the web or from inside the car.
Mercedes-Benz said it is confident this strategic approach to software and hardware development will be the basis for lifetime revenues as well as additional contributions. Already in 2022, Mercedes-Benz generated more than 1 billion Euros in software-enabled revenues with products and services such as navigation, live traffic or online map updates.Further down the road, the company expects total software-enabled revenues coming from new services to grow to a low-to-mid single-digit billion Euro figure by mid-decade; evolving to a high single-digit billion Euro figure by the end of the decade. Software will become a substantial part of the company’s product development process and investment plan, with 25 percent of R&D budget allocated to software by mid-decade.