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Dr Zetsche opens CES with keynote speech

Wed, 11 Jan 2012

Hot on the heels of the unveiling of the new Mercedes-Benz SL in Detroit yesterday, Dr. Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of Daimler AG hot-footed it to Las Vegas to open the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas with a keynote speech that highlighted the company's direction in the ever-important tech space. Car Design News made a similar journey from Michigan to Nevada to bring you the headlines.

Flanked on stage by the Mercedes F125! concept car and the aforementioned new SL, as well as a pair of Smart ForTwos for good measure, the unmistakeable Zetsche opened by explaining the reason for Daimler's new involvement in the premier tech show:

"Here at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas there are some people who view the automobile as an accessory to consumer electronics. Conversely, at the auto show in Detroit there are many people who view consumer electronics as mere trimmings for the car," he explained. "Both views miss the point: as much as a smartphone can be far more than just a tool for communication, a smart car can be more than just a means of transportation. Precisely at the interfaces between communication and mobility, vast potential for innovation lies dormant, and we intend to tap it,"

He set out the five core areas that Daimler is investigating in its tech strategy and the wider issues of mobility: the freedom of time; the freedom of speech; the freedom of access; the freedom of energy; and the freedom of information.

Mercedes has created what it calls DICE – Dynamic & Intuitive Control Experience – an interactive sculpture that features the cutting edge of current interface and connectivity technology to create a vision for the interactive, intuitive and safe driving experience of the future by answering Zetsche's five points. Tech highlights include touch-less gestural interface and augmented reality displays all fed by cloud-based computing and car-to-x communication.

But while the CUBE is an extreme study, Zetsche also drew attention to the company's current real-world solutions to the five issues.

The freedom of time alludes to the fact that, historically, the automotive industry and its products have lagged behind the technology industry due to the vastly differing development times and shelf lives: "it's seven months versus seven years," he explained. Clearly the hardware (in this case the motor car) can't be redesigned every seven months, but by using cloud computing and increased smartphone integration through Mercedes' new mbrace2 system, vehicle software is constantly, wirelessly updated, while mobile communications and social media are more seamlessly integrated via 3G connectivity. All models from the new SL onwards will feature this relatively small but important step forward.

Looking further forward, the F125! was on hand to display the next stage – freedom of speech. Zetsche likened Mercedes' first attempt at voice recognition, Linguatronic in 1996 to Forrest Gump in its lack of intelligence, but spoke of a future where cars not only understand your voice commands in a similar way to Apple's Siri software, but also intelligently responded to the drivers' needs to act as a digital companion: "we don't need technology to tell us it's raining outside – we can see that," said Zetsche. "But what if the car reminded you to bring your umbrella because rain was forecast at your final destination?"

The freedom of access is, predictably, related to the company's car2go micro-rental service which is being extended throughout Europe and the US. "Some people see car sharing as communism," said Zeitsche. "If so, then vive la revolution!" he joked, explaining that this was a huge potential growth area for the auto industry, rather than a threat. A second app-based service, car2gether, is a peer-2-peer ride sharing scheme that screens members via social media such as Facebook to offer increased safety.

Daimler's extensive alternative fuel programmes that include production versions of both pure EVs and hydrogen fuel cells represent's the company's current search for the 'freedom of energy', and Zetsche was refreshingly honest in his statement that our dependency on oil must end soon. In a more holistic future energy scenario, he imagined a world of "smart grids on wheels, with parked vehicle storing and producing renewable energy," citing that if every car in the US were an EV, they would have a combined storage potential four times larger than the nations's national grid.

His final theme – freedom of information – introduced a new car-to-x communication pilot scheme in Germany that allows cars to crowd share information from their surroundings, but it live traffic information or possible hazards such as black ice via their ESP and GPS systems. The aim is to not only reduce road fatalities to zero but also to vastly reduce congestion. This is particularly pertinent in developing megacities, which are already introducing limits on the number of cars allowed to be registered due to congestion. " The solution is not preaching abstinence, but nurturing intelligence," suggested Zetsche. But then if your business is selling cars, then any other suggestion would seem odd.

He concluded by saying that, while the boundaries of cars and consumer electronics would continue to grow, that this was merely one aspect of creating the cars of the future. He also stressed that "any memorable machine is equal parts art and science with fascination. That's what makes people stand in line to buy one."

Related articles:
First Sight: Mercedes-Benz SL
Consumer Electronics Show 2011 – Trends and Overview 

By Owen Ready