preview: 2012 myCOMAND Mercedes-Benz süper-system

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by Danny Kaey on December 07 '08

Yep, another LA auto show report... DK's is rockin' the all new 2012 myCOMAND system from Mercedes-Benz. Well then, looks like the Benz-Boys have something really cool in the works - sadly not until 2012, but hey, what's a couple years between ol' friends?  Besides, it sounds killer......... that's what counts, right here at the 'Flare.

In case you get bored waiting: enjoy the 2009 AMG Black Series SL65.  'nuff said!

Continuing my coverage of the LA auto show, I was introduced to Chris Kirn, US director of research for customer research and human-machine interaction.  It turns out that Chris is of course an automobile aficionado; naturally, I had to get him hip on SonicFlare and our coverage style of all things high-end audio.  Dodging various subjects, we ended up chatting about Formula 1, apple computers, user interface scenarios and the other oddball topics such as diffusers, slicks vs. profiled tires in F1, well, er, you get the drift, no really!

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I then spent some time with his team’s latest and greatest creation, the all-new myCOMAND system, to be featured in every Mercedes by 2012 and rolled out today in form of the new ConceptFASCINATION demo vehicle.  A complete redesign and reinvention of the existing COMAND platform, the all-new system is supposed to be something of a revolution.  Naturally, I was cautiously optimistic that Chris and his team would indeed have redesigned the existing platform as my personal experience with many of these all-in-one systems is that some work better than others, whilst most all of them seem to offer good ideas and general starting points. 


COMAND, or COckpit MANagement and Data systems, was a creation of the late 80’s, which founds its way into the first commercial vehicle, the mighty S-Class in the early 90’s.  It’s crazy to think how far information technology has come in the years since then: there isn’t one system in a modern day vehicle which isn’t affected by a computer somewhere.  COMAND tied all this into one central nervous system, to be accessed through the vehicle’s dashboard mounted LCD display.  Think Knight Rider and Star Trek all rolled into one.


Alas, there’s more: progress marches on, even in the cockpit of your favorite Sunday super ride: the days of simpleton dashboards with but two analog gauges are long, long gone. Quite the contrary, we find ourselves in ever more computer-like user interface environments.  GPS navigation, music playback (yeah!), video playback, internet access, all these sub-systems are in need of one single, concise user interface element.  The hat trick is to make things easy, not more difficult for the average driver to use.  While bells and whistles appear cool and neat for a moment, the effects wear out pretty quickly, leaving you (the driver) lost in a zoo of on screen menus and sub-folders.  Good luck finding the right button to switch your favorite radio preset or – gasp – skipping a song on your iPhone/iPod, a topic particularly relevant to SonicFlare readers.

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There is hope however, as the all-new myCOMAND system, which was demonstrated to me in pre-release form, seems to be the first quantum shift departure from all previous designs and efforts (Mercedes and otherwise) in as much as the entire UI has been remastered and re-engineered based on user input and other technological advances from previous years.  Indeed, upon first glance, the new system looks radically different from previous efforts.  The main feature of the new screen is a carousel-like interface depicting an arrangement of favorite apps loaded in the system.  Web-browser?  Check.  GPS maps?  Check.  Radio interface?  Check.  Internet streaming radio?  Check.  Naturally, this system can and will include every conceivable setting and adjustment all things Benz, from the C-class all the way to the 2012 SLR (c’mon now, you know they will have a replacement for that beast!). 


During my time with this pre-production unit (incidentally, mounted on a giant console outputting to a large screen LCD monitor) , I can report that unlike many such devices it appears that an entirely new level of intuitive user integration has been achieved.  The clickable and rotating input selector allows you to quickly move around town.  Cleverly, direct access buttons for the most used apps are within arm’s reach, hence, say if you were to quickly wish to change a radio station while navigating to the nearest hip Hi-Fi shop, you can do so easily by simply selecting the radio button, which would then immediately take you to the radio screen.

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But there’s more: recall my intuitive comment earlier.  Google, or big boy brother, is also fully integrated into the navigation system.  As you zoom around town, the display will not only show you the route (that would be so 90’s), but also gas stations (with real time pricing info); hotels indicating their vacancy status; real-time weather forecasts; etc.  Now that is way kühl.  Obviously this amount of real time information can’t possibly be stored on a DVD, Blu-ray or otherwise, hence the system is connected online 24/7. 


Therein lies the crux of the problem:  current 3G networks are only now beginning to role out to most metropolitan areas; forget about rural America or Europe for now.  Then there’s the speed and data throughput issue to consider.  This type of 2-way communication requires massive amounts of bandwidth and considering that myCOMAND also streams music off Shoutcast and other content providers in real time, you can quickly see the demand this type of system would bring to cell networks, which already appear to be heavily taxed by such devices as the iPhone.

The last thing you would want to happen as you race from Paul Smith’s on Melrose to Arnold Palmer’s new grubs is to somehow get lost in Rancho Cugamonga.  Shock, Gasp, Awe!  3G, as fast as it is today, still holds much to be desired for this sort of insane data bandwidth. 1.8 Mbps, the typical 3G average, is still nowhere quick enough for any of this to be occurring in real-time.  There is of course WiMAX, an Intel powered technology for FIOS style bandwidth, though I personally wonder if that will every truly catch on.  Thus we arrive at 4G, which coincidentally, will be coming to us around the same time this new myCOMAND system will be launched.


Recall the previously mentioned roll out date: 2012.  Obviously, MB believes that by then we will have sufficient 4G network capabilities in place to afford such a high bandwidth systems.  We live in a new age indeed.  I bet that cars driving themselves ala Minority Report won’t be far off either.  As far as I can tell, Chris and his team have done an outstanding job confronting the challenges of modern day all-in-one dashboard computer systems by rethinking the approach from scratch and linking it to the latest human-machine interface research.  Think apple for your car.  It’s that good.

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