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Gorden Wagener expects autonomous driving to be possible by 2030 (Photo: Daimler)

Mercedes-Benz unveiled a rolling club lounge for young urbanites at the recent Tokyo auto show. In an interview with automotiveIT, the premium car maker's design chief, Gorden Wagener, explains how digitization will affect upcoming Mercedes models and how user interfaces will change to handle a multitude of services and apps.

automotiveIT: No classic windshield, various lighting functions, different seating configurations; which parts of the Vision Tokyo are concept-car features that will never make it into production? And what could we see in the showroom in coming years?

Gorden Wagener: Such a show car provides a lot of inspiration and supports 0ur continuing progressive design work. The concepts for new Mercedes models through the end of the decade have mostly been finalized. For that reason, the ideas you see in Vision Tokyo won't find their way into production cars until 2020 and beyond. This car is at least 10 years ahead of its time. I'm convinced that by the end of the next decade autonomous driving will be possible and that is the foundation for the kind of urban mobility scenario that you see in the Vision Tokyo.

automotiveIT: Software increasingly controls many of a car's functions and everything needs to be operated. What kind of HMI concepts are you planning for future Mercedes models so that the driver is distracted as little as possible?

Wagener: Digital technology in the car will, for sure, grow in importance and, between today and 2025, the car will change more than in the last 50 years. Autonomous driving is a very important enabler; only then will I be able to really use all functions, services and apps. Operation must be intuitive and easy. For the enjoyment of media in future Mercedes models we have our Advanced User Experience Center in Sunnyvale, California. The touchpad will, for sure, play a big role in the HMI, either integrated in the steering wheel or in the center console. For me, voice control also is a valid option to make the car a true friend who responds exactly to what I'm saying. Voice control should also work when the radio is on or when passengers are talking. There will be a combination of HMI components that will give the user the choice how he wants to operate the various functions.

automotiveIT: Vision Tokyo uses a series of innovative algorithms for self-improvement. On its own, the car can learn to better understand the wishes and preferences of driver and passengers. How does Mercedes envision processing the data needed for this?

mercedes-vision-tokyo-300x200 The Vision Tokyo is a rolling lounge concept aimed at young urbanites (Photo: Daimler)

Wagener: It is my dream to have a very puristic interface, comparable maybe with the Google homepage. That's where I put in what I want to find and I get the desired result. Of course that only works when I have an extremely powerful backend servicer. The rest isn't rocket science. It's already being tested in our laboratory in Silicon Valley. It's not just online shops that are getting smarter the more I use them. Cars also learn. Algorithms can make consistent prognoses when they can store and analyse my behavior. And things will get really interesting when these data are combined with additional information. I'm thinking of calendar entries and the current traffic situation on the road to work. Over time, this can lead to a much more intensive relationship beween the driver and the car than we have today.

-By Ralf Bretting