“Pioneering and innovation are in our DNA,” Mercedes-Benz research and development executive Markus Schäfer said last week on the floor at the Mercedes booth at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. He backed that up at the recently concluded event with the car behind him—the Mercedes-Benz Vision AVTR Concept.
The “Vision” cars are known for being fanciful—showcasing the interior of tomorrow’s self-driving cars, for example—but the Vision AVTR looks even further out. Schäfer said the car, built in cooperation with a team from the Avatar films (including director James Cameron, who was at CES), is made of 100% recyclable materials and took two years to complete. The car is long and low, with illuminated wheels. It looks like it would be at home in a futuristic jungle, featuring rear-mounted “bionic flaps” that resemble a lizard’s scales. The 33 flaps move to support the car’s handling, and can also work as integrated solar plates to help power the vehicle. Proving all of the power necessary is a stretch, though future solar breakthroughs could make that happen. Will there be recharging stations in the jungle?
Mercedes futurist Alexander Mankowsky admitted in a statement that the AVTR will “probably never be built” as a production car, but its technology is “a signpost for a livable future.”
Mankowsky envisions “a fusion of body and vehicle,” which on the AVTR is partially realized by its nest-like, intimate seating position. The car, he said, “adapts through its flowing forms of natural aesthetics, overcoming the boundary of natural and technical formal language.”
Bringing the outside in, the AVTR has transparent doors that open upward. The roof is supported by partially transparent panels that change colours and benefit from hologram effects.
The seats have eight “exciters,” which like the massage chairs in certain luxury vehicles, transmit vibrations to occupants. The 360-degree soundscape includes aural stream flows and bird song. The Magic Pool on the back of the front seats offers educational gaming for younger passengers. Points of interest en route are introduced in an age-appropriate manner.
The reclining front seats are “reminiscent of the leaf hammocks in Home Tree,” as seen in the first Avatar (2009). Expect the second film late next year, in a series also slated to include Avatar 3 (2023), Avatar 4 (2025), and Avatar 5 (2027). The Vision AVTR is emission-free and offers a range of 435 miles in European testing via a 110-kilowatt hour recyclable battery, plus fully variable all-wheel drive with torque vectoring. It’s equipped with vehicle-to-grid technology, which means it can return energy to the utility companies when it’s needed at peak times.
All that is today’s technology, but the car showcases much that’s still in development, such as organic batteries, which use graphene-based chemistry without metals or rare-earth. The material can actually be composted. The interior materials are all vegan and organic. That includes colour-changeable Dinamica leather (sustainable through the entire production cycle) and, in the floor, Karuun wood from a fast-growing and easily replenished rattan source material from Indonesia.
Also futuristic is the biometric controls, which allow the car to be activated with a handprint. According to Mercedes, it “recognizes the driver by his or her heartbeat and breathing.” There are no standard-issue buttons or switches—functions are activated by gesture control or other body movements. The “dashboard” offers 3-D graphics of not only what’s ahead on the road, but detailed views of existing natural wonders, such as China’s Huangshan mountains and Australia’s pink Lake Hillier.
Tomorrow technology such as this is often non-functional on test cars. It’s unclear if everything works on the Vision AVTR, but undoubtedly some of it does. It’s not surprising that the car is battery powered since that’s Mercedes-Benz’s clear direction. “Our Main Street will be electric,” Schäfer said at CES. “All of our new cars will be carbon neutral by 2039.”
As early as 2030, electrified cars (battery-electric and plug-in hybrids) could constitute more than 50% of Benz’s European sales, the company said. That said, Mercedes (citing high European demand) is delaying the U.S. release of its electric EQC SUV from 2020 to 2021.
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