~ Auto Buzz ~: Mercedes Benz MBUX 2018 A Class Detailed Walk Through

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Mercedes Benz MBUX 2018 A Class Detailed Walk Through



MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience), will feature three-dimensional digital displays, a touchscreen, voice control, and over-the-air updates.

MBUX is a significant step forward for Mercedes, the voice control works offline, the touch screen is responsive and you can even switch between two different phones seamlessly when they’re connected by Bluetooth. MBUX will be launching first in the A-Class but rolling out to across the Mercedes line in the future.

We took the A-Class for a drive in Split and we’ve got a very detailed first impressions of all the intelligent systems the car has to offer, there are a lot, so don’t be afraid to use the Table of Contents below to jump around, it’s too many words about a very cool system. We’re excited for a full review since this test drive only gave us a taste of what this #UltimateMobileDevice is capable of.

Interface Design

  • Multitouch
  • OTA (Over the Air) updates, will make sure it’s up to date with the latest slang (and mapping information)
  • Smartwatch integration
  • Android/iOS support

Positive

  • UX is customizable, easy and intuitive to change the order the icons appear
  • Smooth and responsive
  • OTA updates, every 2 months for navigation, 6 months for offline language support
  • HUD is customizable
  • Touchpad works well for address input & controlling the infotainment system

Negative

  • The app offers more granular control of the system, the user will need a lot of training to get the most out of the system
  • Themes are limited and the cleanest options lacks basic navigation functionality. Three options are good, but very busy, sporty and so simple it doesn’t even have maps isn’t a lot of options.

MBUX comprises two widescreen displays, one to replace the traditional gauge cluster and one for the infotainment. The gauge cluster screen has a traditional two-gauge layout, but like any display the gauges can appear in a number of configurations. You can show current media, an analog clock, a navigation map or fuel consumption figures instead of speed or revs.

Scrolling and animations on the MBUX system’s is silky smooth, and feel as responsive as Smartphone touch input, which is a major achievement relative to typical first-party car touchscreen performance.

Over on the right, a home screen displays large images for quick-tap access to media, navigation and phone menus. Each of those images can display pertinent information just below, including ETAs and whatever media is playing.

The interface seems to now rely heavily on skeuomorphic details, a design concept where items resemble their real-world counterparts. Which seems to have removed the need to scroll through long menus in order to reach things you need. If you want to change vehicle settings, the settings menu features fancy animations of the vehicle, and all you need to do is tap various parts of the car to access relevant settings. The file structure like interface was one of the more frustrating complaints about Command, the previous UX structure.

MBUX focuses on simplicity when it comes to interaction. Even though it offers a lot of options and features, many of the things you want to do can be accessed directly from the top level main screen, including navigating to your home, playing a favorite music station. There’s also a fullscreen mode that can display navigation information across the entire area of the gauge cluster.

MBUX will eventually expand further into the same kind of app store system we’re all used to now, where some apps will be free, while owners can opt to buy other apps as well.

Sport Theme

There are a few different themes you can choose from to replace the traditional gauge cluster. The standard screen comes with the ability to show you every icon possible, it’s busy but information packed. The sport screen offers more performance-based details for your car, the third screen is a simplified screen in which basically just tells you how fast you’re going.

I dislike how the simplified screen doesn’t have the ability to include navigation instructions. It seems like a UX design fail to think that just because you don’t want an excess of information that navigation as very basic driving need would be excluded.

The overall color scheme is very male, blue and black is nice but I’d prefer something a little more unisex and classy. The A Class has the highest demographic of women in the Mercedes line up. I’m NOT saying that I want a pink display (as everyone I mentioned this to “hilariously” assumed that is what I meant). If you are going to offer a section of interfaces, perhaps the cleanest and most elegant of the 3 should not be crippled with a lack of functionality. As a driver, just because you want something clean doesn’t mean that you don’t want to get the most out of it. It seems like an oversight that the most basic display doesn’t even allow for maps navigation to be included. My suggestion would be to include a black and white option, it would still fit into a color scheme the safety regulations would allow and it would be truly unisex.

After saying all of that, looking into the package, it’s a 208.25EUR add-on and it’s clearly focused on selling the Sport interface, so my complaining about the lack of options can be easy to overlook since you’d only get this package if you were interested Sport interface. 

Having said that if you do want a pink interior or have a multicolored rainbow light show, the interior lighting package will let you customize the interior of your car with a crazy array of color choices and light shows. This high degree of customization, I was told, was why the dashboard customization was limited if you allow something so crazy.

The steering wheel is equipped with a wide selection of buttons for controlling the infotainment system. Since many of the other features are optional, the steering wheel is the most complete method of interacting with the system. The touchpad under your right thumb proves to be especially useful for navigation through the UX, it keeps your hands on the wheel while you glance over and interact with the system.

Touchpad is a nice way to change your music, you’re able to tap the top of the pad and drag your finger in the direction you want to move the music, next track or starting the song over again. In a world where I’m used to keeping on hand on gear shift this touchpad is a place to rest my hand and remind of the days when cars were manual. (Obviously you should have both hands on the wheel at all times, but for those times when you don’t, the ability to quickly enter a written address and change the tracks makes the TouchPad a worthy addition.

Positive

  • Smartphone integration is seamless and easy 
  • The ability to connect up to 2 smartphones
  • Android Auto & Apple Car play options are available.
  • If you get the MBUX navigation package, it including three years of Live Traffic, Car-to-X communication and map updates.

Negative

  • Works best with Samsung devices, you’ll be able to more easily access personal information from different systems like your email without getting extra packages. This is a positive if you have a Samsung!
  • The timeline for how long you’ll be able to get MBUX updates is unknown. Currently, the system will see cloud updates every 2 months and the embedded speech in LINGUATRONICS will happen every half a year. There is no commitment for how long you’ll be receiving updates for.

Navigation System

Extremely accurate GPS positioning. When the system say make a turn in 100m, it really does mean 100m. In many cars when voice directions are given to turn right, the prompt can be too late to realize that this is the right hand turn it’s talking about. In a roundabout when the exits are so close it’s helpful that the instructions are so accurate.

Though many of the automotive makers are using the same data for their navigation systems it’s how the data is interpreted and what data the automotive maker decides to include that contributes to the overall accuracy of the navigation.

It’s a little disappointing that the standard system doesn’t include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but they are both included in the modestly priced Smartphone Connect package.

If you get the extended MBUX functions, AI will come into play with predictive features. With these, MBUX anticipates what the user would like next. For instance, anyone who often telephones their mother on Tuesdays during the journey home will receive her telephone number as a suggestion on the display on this day of the week. Anyone who regularly switches over to a radio station with news at a certain time also receives this as a suggestion.

And if the navigation system detects a route frequently driven, navigation to this destination is already started in the background. For example, MBUX suggests the fitness studio on the navigation screen. The driver then only needs to confirm, and all the information on the route, such as congestion warnings, is already to hand.

The 3D mapping data offers a high level of graphic detail, more than other systems I’ve tested. What’s interesting about this is HERE Maps is providing the same mapping data to the manufacturers, it’s up to the manufacture how they present that data. Mercedes has gone the extra mile and offered building detail that one could think is busy and distracting, but when I was looking for a specific location being able to quickly identify landmarks at a quick glance was handy.

The blue arrow over the real-time camera is fantastic! We love seeing useful applications of AR!

The Map also has an option to be supplemented with Augmented Reality, a video image of the surrounding area is taken with the car’s cameras. Navigation information like house numbers or arrows are superimposed directly onto the street view surrounding the car. This makes it easier to find a house number or to figure out which way you’re going to be making a turn.

 

Virtual Assistant – Voice Control

Mercedes has created their own virtual assistant, Hey Mercedes

Positives

  • The system capable of learning new vocabulary, however, half a year for the system to learn that I prefer to call tracks, songs is a long time to wait. It’s significant that they’ve built in the ability for the system to learn on its own from the data using AI, however, it is not applying the changes real time.
  • Trained for regional dialects of different languages, for example, British English vs North American English
  • Commands will work when the system is not connected to the internet. Of course, it does need internet for live information queries like traffic or weather.
  • Available in 23 different languages
  • OTA updates

Negative

  • British English and North American English are different, this was noticeable as I don’t have an English accent. If you are not a native English speaker the North American English package is more forgiving.
  • The language used to interact with the system is natural, however, you still have to know the command language to interact with the system. Inferring that it’s on par with a smartphone digital assistant, currently, is not correct. “Turn on the seat AC” didn’t work, the command word is seat ventilation. I understand that with a system that’s so new it’s evolving quickly, but providing a list of commands will at least allow the user to quickly get an idea of what they can do with the system.

LINGUATRONIC by Mercedes is the name of the system behind their new voice assistant, it’s got a foundation in a system automakers have been using for nearly two decades. But that’s where things end, it’s been completely reinvented. MBUX relies on a combination of onboard and off-board setups which have significantly improved the latency of the Mercedes assistant. The MBUX system uses a homegrown language database which has enabled it to understand indirect speech in the same way that Alexa or Google Assistant would.

This means that they’ve made an effort to let you talk to the system more naturally, but this doesn’t mean that it will understand you if you go off script. I wasn’t able to use the word song when asking it to skip songs, I had to use the more obscure word track. “Play the next track” over “Play the next song”. As natural as MBUX is for understanding natural language there it still has a long way to go, in english.
Another problem that I ran into was because the drive was in Split Croatia, the EU version of MBUX was loaded, meaning that it is best suited to understand Britsh English. Being Canadian, it had a hard time understanding me (and using a fake British accent made it worse! Lol). A high point for the system is that in German the natural language is very good.

As much at Mercedes insists that you can just talk to the car to make things happen they really should provide a list of commands. “Turn on the seat AC” didn’t work, I needed to know “Turn on the seat ventilation”, “Turn on the seat warmer worked” but I was at a loss about how to make the seat cooler.

The system will learn and add more commands, but trying to teach the system “song” or “butt AC” is possible, but the system only receives updates roughly every 6 months. So it’s worth providing a list of commands just so you can be aware of what is currently possible 6 months is a whole summer of warm buns if you never figure out that the command phrase is “seat ventilation”.

As good as the linguistics systems are, I feel that Mercedes is trying to project an image of future that’s overlooking the pragmatic need is teaching someone to use a new system. 50% of the people that I saw talking to the car asked a question around search: “Who is the chancellor of Germany”,“How tall is Lebron James” were just two examples.

The philosophical line of what works in terms of voice commands might be clear to the designers, but it’s not clear to the consumer.
MBUX is useful for controlling the car’s systems, but there is a line when the voice commands stop and it will want you to use the touch screen to continue. Understanding how MBUX has decided what is useful as a voice command and what you should be using the touch screen for is almost an existential exercise of how I am predicted to exist within the car.

I wanted to pair a second Bluetooth phone, I want to note that pairing a second phone is already very impressive, however, the car expects that since it’s a second phone that the person will be there to interact with the display. This makes sense. However, on my drive I was alone and the car came with an already connected phone, so I had to pull over to figure it out. I get that this setup process will only be done once, but it can make it difficult to understand what is the best way to interact when you can use your voice to begin the setup of the second device, but you need to interact with this screen to finish the process.

When you can use the web to access Yelp reviews, weather and traffic updates it’s easy to see why when you’re promoting the hashtag #UltimateMobileDevice for the new A-class why people’s expectations are that it will work like a smartphone.

MBUX with its offline capabilities put it ahead of the pack when it comes to being able to interact with your car and it’s systems, and I have no doubt that over the next year that they’ll continue to impress. But until that day arrives just provide a command list so that people can quickly figure out how to get the most out of the system.

If you’re not holding the car to a smartphone standard, then it is huge leaps and bounds forward to not have to say you don’t need to be so specific when giving instructions, rather than saying “Set driver temperature to 70 degrees,” you can just say “Hey Mercedes, I’m too cold,”. The car will decide how much to increase the temperature and raise it by a few degrees.

If you tell MBUX you’re hungry and it won’t just show the nearest restaurants and their distance, you also the Yelp rating. However, since Google Maps isn’t integrated into the system and the telematics is based on HERE’s solution you don’t have the option to find out the Google Maps rating as well. When the system launches, we can also expect a partnership with Trip Advisor, which will increase the available information on restaurants and points of interest.

As the hashtag on the side of the camouflaged A-Class suggest, they’re looking to make the car the #UltimateMobileDevice
I noted that I was testing the British English version of the UX, it’s not clear if you can request what geography your language package comes from. American (or Canadian) English language setting will be more forgiving for non-native English speakers than British English, so if you have a “non-traditional” accent then you might want to see if you can get the US English language package if you can’t get it in your native language. For all you immigrants, expatriates and lovers of lands other than your own, this is an important piece of information.

On a side note, the language is actually being tuned in Montreal by the old Nortel crew! So Quebecois french should be spot on and my uniquely Canadian accent should play wonderfully in terms of accuracy whenever I finally get to test the North American system I’ll let you know!

 

Display

The widescreen displays are available in three different configurations — two 7-inch displays, two 10.25-inch displays and a midtier offering with one screen of each size.

The MBUX functions are modular in structure and can be broken down into three options.
• Basic : As standard this has two 7-inch (17.78 cm) displays for the instrument cluster and media display with touchscreen, a multifunction sports steering wheel with touch control buttons on the left and right, a USB interface (Type C) in the storage tray, USB interfaces (Type C) in the rear, Bluetooth connection for telephony and audio sources.
• extended MBUX functions: voice control, including personalization, a predictive function and theme worlds, a WiFi hotspot. On request, a large media display can also be ordered
• Large media display (10.25-inch/26 cm).

Base model is available without a navigation system and the small display’s. This means that you’d be relying solely on Android Auto and Apple Car Play. Both of these systems were good alternatives when car connectivity was a decade behind the smartphone, they have both not gotten significant upgrades in a few years and are best suited for older vehicles were getting a modern integrated infotainment system is not possible.

Heads Up Display (HUD) is optional but an extra that’s worth every penny!

The HUD on the A-Class is bright with a ton of customization options. You can adjust its position on the window, which is a very important detail. Many automotive makers customize the position of things for the average man, in many cars I’ve found that I have to adjust the seat position higher than I would like to view the HUD properly.

The floating display appears 2.5m above the bonnet and is 24 x 8cm, it is full color with more than 60pixels per degree of viewing angles
The head-up display is activated using the left touch-control button in the steering wheel. It is configured via a settings menu in the display itself, a first in this vehicle class. The driver is able to configure the display according to personal preferences and priorities. Depending on the equipment level and personal settings, it shows e.g. navigation instructions, vehicle speed, speed limits or the settings for cruise control or Active Distance Control DISTRONIC.

A light sensor located near the top edge of the roof automatically adjusts the brightness of the head-up display to the exterior lighting conditions. Brightness of 12,000 cd/sq. m. plus can be achieved on sunny days. Since the contrast ratio is better than 1000:1, the system produces a high-quality display even in the dark.

Positives

  • The Display is bright and is easy to see in direct sunlight
  • UX is customizable, you can rearrange icons with a long press, which is indicative of how smartphones generally work.
  • MBUX doesn’t feel like a series of menus, most of the time you feel like you’re navigating through various opportunities/tasks.

Negative

  • The bezels aren’t overtly large, however, they are very noticeable
  • 10 inch display’s aren’t standard, they are an upgrade
  • No other options available for overall UX color scheme
  • All the good stuff is extra, the touchpad, HD navigation (including three years of Live Traffic, Car-to-X communication and map updates), a head-up display and Burmester surround sound system. As well as other navigation-specific optional equipment such as augmented reality for navigation, Traffic Sign Assist and navigation services also need to be added on.

Hardware

  • Regardless if it’s the base or the upgraded infotainment system, it will come with two graphics chips, both provided by NVIDIA, 8 GB DDR4 ram, and a 6-core CPU with a Linux operating system.
  • Heads up display option, which is one of my favorite navigation add-ons, the HUDs will have a brightness of up to 12,000 cd/m².
  • Type C Ports
  • Wireless charging – An LGV30s ThinQ capably of Quick Charge 3.0 was able to gain 10% charge in 20min, this is not very quick. It’s hard for manufacturers to turn up the mAh transfer speeds because of the heat that is caused at higher speeds. The position of the phone in under the infotainment system, with the ability to enclose the phone could become a concern.

Positive

  • Performance of MBUX is smooth, fluid with beautiful graphics
  • All settings (e.g. seating position, ambient lighting, favorite radio station, the orientation of the navigation map right through to personal predictions) can be saved in a profile. If two drivers share a car, each can call up his/her favorite settings easily.
  • The ambient lighting with 64 colors and ten color worlds is a beautiful high tech feeling feature.

Negative

  • The only ports available are Type C, this is future proof, however, Samsung devices have the highest compatibility with the A Class. Apple does limit some functionality hoping that you’ll opt to use CarPlay over the built-in systems and Android’s fragmentation as made it hard for manufacturers to get things working on all handsets. Samsung includes a type C to type C cable in their box, it seems that the designers thought this was an incredibly common cable. It is not. I was told that they’ll be including adapters.

welcome to the dongle lifestyle

While we initially thought MBUX might cut down on the different ways you could interact with the system, that hasn’t happened, with Mercedes-Benz still offering control via voice, the steering wheel, the touchscreen or the rotary dial. However, with voice commands working as sharply as they do, there’s no real need to access any of the other options in the real world.

MBUX is designed to offer a highly personal experience, you’re able to create theme worlds such as private, business, relaxation, sport, etc. One person can have several theme worlds. They are activated by clicking on the menu bar. The data record of a theme world can include e.g. climate settings, seat adjustment, radio station, navigation destination, driving mode.

Mercedes Me Connect – An Extremely Powerful Platform

Mercedes me connect services are being launched with the new infotainment generation MBUX. These include the navigation functions on the basis of Car-to-X Communication (information from vehicle to vehicle on events recorded by sensors, e.g. emergency braking, ESP intervention, or a manual system message by the driver, e.g. on an accident) and Vehicle Tracking, which makes it easier to find the parked car, and a message if the parked car has been bumped or towed away.

Office function in the car/In-Car Office allows access to important data and use of certain office functions directly in the vehicle, including easy participation in telephone conferences (without having to search for dial-up information). Appointments can be displayed and read aloud.

The Mercedes me app collection can be placed as an icon on the screen in a user-friendly way and can be freely sorted on the homepage like all other main applications. In addition, online content such as current filling station prices or the availability of parking spaces in the multi-storey car park is displayed in MBUX. Online updating is a simple way of allowing new content to be made available in MBUX.

The individual Mercedes me Connect services are grouped into equipment packages. Packages available for the new A-Class are the Connectivity Package Navigation (comprising Navigation and the LiveTraffic service incl. Car-to-X communication, map update in dealerships or over-the-air and the extended Navigation Services such as car park information, Petrol Station Prices), the Connectivity Package Navigation & Comfort (with additional office function in the car and Concierge Service) and the Connectivity Package Smartphone (Vehicle Setup, Vehicle Monitoring, Smartphone Integration; in all likelihood available from June 2018).

Mercedes-Benz still offering control via voice, the steering wheel, the touchscreen or the rotary dial. However, with voice commands working as sharply as they do, there’s no real need to access any of the other options in the real world.

Privacy & Data Control

The MBUX System like most modern infotainment systems uses the cloud to fetch real-time data on traffic, weather, points of interest and more. When you first set up the vehicle at the dealership, you’ll have the option to switch on or off offline speech. If you want to change your settings after the fact, in the LINGUATRONIC setting you can decide to opt out. The Mercedes Me app if you head to the Linguatronic section you actually have more modular control of what types of information you’re sending to the cloud.

It’s an advanced system that we’re excited to do a real long-term test of and continue to check out after the first set up updates roll out.

Early Verdict

MBUX is the step that we’ve been waiting for with the natural language capabilities working offline, this changes the way that you can interact with the car, especially since connectivity is never what you hope it’s going to be on those long drives. Obviously, the system still needs connectivity to get things like traffic or weather updates but its offline chops make the system feel a lot more stable.

The steering wheel is completely covered in buttons, which is good for keeping your hands on the wheel if you don’t opt for the voice assistant.  The touchpad feels very premium and works well when you want to input your address.

The maps and navigation are fast, responsive with stunning graphics, we’re especially impressed with just how accurately it tracks the position of the car.

There are still some kinks to work out, but small iterations and updates are closer to making this the ideal system for someone who values seamless connectivity.

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