Mercedes ‘Avatar’-inspired car features intuitive BCI interaction and immersive VR and AR

[The Detroit Bureau reports on the recent demonstration of Mercedes-Benz’ AVTR concept car that features technology designed to evoke multiple forms of presence. See the company’s press release and vehicle profile web page for more information, images and videos. –Matthew]

[Image: Source: PC Magazine]

Powered by Thought; Mercedes Reveals Update of Vision AVTR Concept

Show car explores the use of brain-computer interface applications in cars.

By Paul A. Eisenstein, Publisher & Editor-in-Chief
September 07, 2021

When the first navigation systems came to market, motorists had to manually type in a destination. Now, they simply have to speak and, in most vehicles, a voice control system will do the rest. But there may soon come a day when you just have to think about where you want to go before your vehicle takes you there autonomously.

That, at least, is the idea behind the updated Vision AVTR concept that Mercedes-Benz is showing off at this year’s Munich Motor Show. Pronounced “Avatar,” the concept initially was developed in cooperation with James Cameron, director of the smash hit movie by that name. It first debuted at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Now, it has made the trek across the Atlantic and gotten some new, cutting-edge technology along the way.

“Mercedes-Benz is setting another milestone in the merging of man and machine with the research and development of brain-computer interface applications in cars,” said Britta Seeger, member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG and Mercedes-Benz AG, responsible for Sales.

“BCI technology has the potential to further enhance driving comfort in the future. (It) works completely independently of speech and touch. This opens up revolutionary possibilities for intuitive interaction with the vehicle.”

Using brain power

Visitors to the Munich show will get the chance to try out the brain-computer interface by climbing into a mockup of the Vision AVTR’s driver’s seat. Light dots are then projected onto a digital dashboard while a wrap-around band with “wearable” electrodes monitors and records brain activity.

After a minute-long calibration, driver and vehicle are linked and the BCI system can measure neuronal activity as visual stimuli are displayed on the digital dashboard. The system then detects what the driver is focused on, using that to trigger different vehicle functions. That could be used to turn on lights, pick a parking spot or, at some point, input information like your destination.

The BCI technology, says Mercedes, is “similar to the neuronal connection between the Na’vi and nature” in Cameron’s blockbuster film, “Avatar.”

A closer connection

The name of the Mercedes Vision concept actually is short for “Advanced Vehicle Transformation.” The all-electric show car features a mix of sustainable materials, flexible body panels, and an electric drive system that can travel over 400 miles per charge and turn on a dime. It also offers passengers immersive virtual and augmented reality games and scenarios influenced by Cameron’s outer space adventure.

“Not only is it beautifully designed but it will create a closer connection with the driver and the environment around them. One that hopefully results in a better understanding of our responsibility to the world in which we live,” said Jon Landau, the producer of “Avatar,” who joined Cameron during the debut of the AVTR concept at CES in January 2020.

The four-door concept bears more than a slight resemblance to the Banshee flying vehicles used by the film’s cat-like aliens, the Na’Vi. One of the most distinctive features is the use of 33 movable “surface elements” that not only appear to bring the concept to life but which actually have a functional purpose, helping maximize aerodynamics and extend the AVTR’s range.

As with the flying vehicles called Banshees, the Mercedes Vision AVTR is designed to intuitively link driver and vehicle. In the CES version, you could place your hand on the glowing central controller and it will read your pulse while allowing you to operate many of the prototype’s functions. When you lift your hand, the concept vehicle projects onto your palm a list of different functions.

An immersive experience

AVTR also features both virtual and augmented reality technology, the automaker explaining that “The interior of the Vision AVTR becomes an immersive experience space and conveys a completely new user experience.”

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