Mercedes-Benz’s new MBUX in-car assistant and smart UI rocks


Image Credits:

It’s rare that I pay much attention to automaker infotainment and multimedia system updates at CES – usually there’s too much going on with autonomy, electrification and mobility services to give it much thought. This year, however, Mercedes-Benz had one of the most interesting announcements at the show with its new MBUX smart multimedia system and in-car voice activated assistant.

MBUX is not the underpowered, underwhelming voice input system carmakers have been pushing on consumers for around a decade now. Instead, it’s a learning, smart and connected platform built upon Nvidia’s powerful GPU technology. For maybe the first time, using an in-car infotainment system felt to me like an actual pleasure, rather than doing something that ranges from ‘bad’ to ‘adequate’ on the user experience scale.

Part of that is just the fact that the computers powering the system are capable enough to drive high framerate visuals, on screens with a high resolution that doesn’t leave things pixelated. For too long, infotainment systems in cars have relied on underpowered, cheap local chips to power their output, leaving software developers working at automakers with the unenviable challenge of shoehorning their work onto silicon that really shouldn’t be running an alarm clock, let alone vital apps and information displays you use while driving.

Scrolling and animations on the MBUX system’s two dash mounted displays (one in the center, and another behind the steering wheel) are silky smooth, and feel as responsive as an iPhone to touch input, which is a major achievement relative to typical first-party car touchscreen performance.

MBUX also 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, checking the weather and more.

Even when you do want to drill down to be more specific, there are shortcuts built in, thanks to the way MBUX learns your preferences and presents them through a “Suggestions” shortcut that’s just a tap away form the main screen. These will offer suggested destinations, music, cabin comfort settings and more based on what it learns about your habits, your schedule, and your preferences. They also follow the driver around, and are attached to their profile – which can even follow you from vehicle to vehicle if you’re switching between Mercedes cars equipped with MBUX.

Of course, there’s also the voice powered element, which you can trigger by saying “Hey Mercedes” at any time, or by pressing a button on the steering wheel. This allows you to issue voice commands in natural language, like saying “I’m cold” in order to have it increase the heat by two degrees, or asking it if you can wear flip flops next week to retrieve a local weather forecast.

In practice, the voice commands worked well, though Las Vegas cellular service wasn’t always cooperating. Mercedes-Benz built its speech assistant with occasional connectivity in mind, however, so there’s a lot you can do even when you’re not connected to the cloud, including modifying cabin lighting and asking it to play specific songs from an attached USB drive, for instance.

Its capabilities are also designed to grow over time; the smart assistant is built using AI technology powered by Nvidia, and can improve both locally, and via software and feature updates pushed from the cloud. Mercedes-Benz also plans to issue significant feature additions to the system over the lifetime of the vehicle, and using Nvidia GPUs to power it mean they’ve actually got a lot of additional computing power to spare to support those updates.

Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang explained in an interview that his company has been working with Daimler directly for two years to bring this to fruition, with a dedicated engineering team set up for the purpose. Daimler VP of Digital Vehicle & Mobility Sajjad Khan also added that working with Nvidia was key to helping the company achieve something that was performant now, but also had plenty of room to grow.

In the end, MBUX is that rarest of beasts: A first-party infotainment system that’s exciting, powerful and extremely well-crafted from a technology perspective. If you’d have told me a week ago that one of my favorite things from CES would be an automaker’s infotainment software, I’d have laughed, but here we are.

MBUX will arrive first on the all-new A-Class when it arrives later this year, but it will also roll out to other new Mercedes vehicles after that.

More TechCrunch

Ahead of the AI safety summit kicking off in Seoul, South Korea later this week, its co-host the United Kingdom is expanding its own efforts in the field. The AI…

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

12 hours ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

2 days ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

3 days ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities