Freakish Mercedes AVTR concept reads your mind, owns your nightmares
Mercedes-Benz takes hands-free vehicle control to the next level at this year's IAA Mobility show in Munich. Its scaly Vision AVTR concept looks as likely to rise up and eat its driver as to obey them, but with a new brain-computer interface, the visionary car actually becomes something of an extension of the driver's mind and body, a concept that might be more frightening than a carnivorous robo-lizard car. For better or worse, Mercedes looks into the deep future of the intuitive smart car.
Mercedes first presented the Vision AVTR as an organically inspired design study at CES 2020 in partnership with Disney and its Avatar film series. In Munich, Mercedes pushes the concept a couple steps closer to the movie's vision of brain-controlled external beings, by installing a rudimentary but working brain-machine interface.
Personally, we'd have selected a less creepily intimidating concept car to explore the creepy and intimidating idea of brain-computer interfaces (BCI), definitely one without 33 "bionic flaps" or swollen wheels that look like fungus exploding off the car body. But Mercedes goes all in on weirdness with the concept, the proper full name of which is "Advanced Vehicle Transformation."
“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," explains Britta Seeger, Daimler and Mercedes-Benz board member responsible for sales. "BCI technology works completely independently of speech and touch. This opens up revolutionary possibilities for intuitive interaction with the vehicle."
Just in case the otherworldly weirdness of the AVTR doesn't already make it clear, Mercedes spells out that its BCI technology is not going to be ready for everyday use in the near future. And that begs the question: What need is there for brain control in a future in which human control will be minimized by autonomous driving technology?
Mercedes sees BCI as a natural step forward from current-generation infotainment technologies like "Hey Mercedes" voice control and gesture control. With brain control, car passengers might not even have to lift a finger or utter a syllable to adjust the climate or change the music. In fact, if it were to become seamless (invasive) enough, maybe the technology could continuously adjust the vehicle the microsecond a related thought pops into each passenger's head.
At present, Mercedes remains a long ways off from that level of technology, but it is showing a working demo at the IAA show. Visitors to the exhibit can sit down in the stationary mockup and slap a set of electrodes against the back of their skulls, with a headband-like wearable. After about a minute's worth of brain wave reading and calibration, the wearable establishes a connection between brain and vehicle. The user focuses on one of several light dots cast onto the digital infotainment screen and, assuming it works as advertised, the system automatically selects that function.
There's no word on whether or not users can order the Vision AVTR to internally sabotage Mercedes' brain control program to protect future generations from the final stage of corporate privacy invasion, but here's to hoping.
Those who don't mind the idea of surrendering their minds to their new mobility machine master can try Mercedes' BCI at IAA Mobility, which opened to the public on Tuesday and runs through Sunday, September 12.