• The cooperative vehicle based on a Mercedes-Benz S-Class has 360-degree light signalling.

    Mercedes-Benz FutureInsight: “Human first”.

    Empathy as anchor in the digital transformation.

Trust between humans and machines.

What does a desirable future that is worth living look like? How can individuality and digital transformation be reconciled? How can trust be established between humans and machines? A series of “FutureInsight” debates from Mercedes-Benz address questions like these. In these debates, Mercedes-Benz experts discuss such questions around the theme of mobility with academics, artists, media representatives and specialists from a wide range of fields. The aim is to gain inspiration and food for thought, which then can be helpful for their own future mobility activities. At the FutureInsight event in Berlin on 21 and 22 November, the focus was on empathy and trust as topics.

The body as a means of communication: In a cooperative vehicle based on a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the entire outer shell of the vehicle becomes a communication medium.
Mercedes-Benz FutureInsight: “Human first” – Empathy as an anchor in digital transformation.

Digital transformation.

For many people, the theme of “digital transformation” conjures up a vague feeling somewhere between fascination and uncertainty. Fascination because digital technologies can drastically simplify complex activities, find amazing solutions and offer unique opportunities. Uncertainty because futuristic visions of complete automation seem to leave little room for human individuality and our ability to act.

Future of mobility.

“At Mercedes-Benz we are convinced that the digital transformation can only be designed successfully if it is deeply anchored within society. Humans and access to data must be at the heart of a digital transformation,” says Jasmin Eichler, Head of Research Future Technologies at Daimler AG. “That is why we are also working on solutions in the field of digitalisation which place the freedom, decision-making autonomy and individuality of human beings at their centre. We aim to create a balance between humans and technology. The approach we are following here is ‘Human first’.”

Because there are diverse issues around digital transformation, Mercedes-Benz is basing its endeavours on “open innovation”. Stakeholders from all different industries – business, research, art, industry or biology – are brought together for shared research purposes. The results are projects which consider the future of mobility from new perspectives and which produce exceptional problem-solving approaches. Mercedes-Benz presented some of these collaborative projects at the FutureInsight event in Berlin.

Various turquoise traffic lights on the vehicle inform passers-by and the surrounding traffic that the vehicle is travelling independently.

A future with autonomous vehicles.

How do we establish trust between humans and machines? Autonomous driving is going to be an integral part of our future. When it comes to this topic, Mercedes-Benz regards empathy and trust as central factors for the success and acceptance of the transformation. The concept of “informed trust” takes on great importance here: “People need to be able to quickly and reliably gauge what an autonomous vehicle is going to do next. The vehicle must therefore provide information about its intentions in a way that people can grasp immediately and intuitively,” says Alexander Mankowsky, a futurologist at Daimler.

Based on this information, the person needs to be able to decide what they are going to do and how they are going to respond to the situation. Among other innovations at FutureInsight, for this purpose Mercedes-Benz introduced concepts for a “cooperative vehicle”. Projects with external providers demonstrate further possibilities for how future autonomous vehicles could communicate and work together with their surroundings.

The car body as a means of communication: Various turquoise light signals on the vehicle inform passers-by and the surrounding traffic that the vehicle is travelling independently.

The cooperative vehicle.

The cooperative vehicle, based on an S-Class, features 360-degree light signalling. Turquoise light strips in the windscreen, the radiator grille, the headlamps, the exterior mirrors and the lower area of the windows indicate to pedestrians and surrounding traffic that the vehicle is operating in autonomous mode. Lamps on the roof provide information about the next actions that the vehicle is going to perform. Slow flashing means that the vehicle is braking. A stationary light shows that the vehicle is in autonomous driving mode, regardless whether it is driving or at a standstill. The lights on the roof also follow the movements of people at the side of the road and in front of the vehicle to signal that the vehicle is aware of their presence. In doing so, the cooperative vehicle recreates the natural eye contact that would have taken place between the driver and pedestrians. Rapid flashing indicates that it is about to move off.

A living thing that is waking up.

The cooperative S-Class also informs its surroundings that it is about to enter into operation while it is still at the side of the road. The light strips around the vehicle emit an appropriate light signal. The exterior mirrors fold out and first the rear of the vehicle lifts up followed by the front. These movements resemble a living thing that is waking up and stretching. People can understand this communication intuitively.

Various turquoise traffic lights on the vehicle inform passers-by and the surrounding traffic that the vehicle is travelling independently.
Various turquoise traffic lights on the vehicle inform passers-by and the surrounding traffic that the vehicle is travelling independently.

360-degree communication.

360-degree light signalling is particularly important when it comes to keeping pedestrians informed. This finding is the result of several light studies that Mercedes-Benz has conducted at its test facility in Sindelfingen, as well as at the recently opened site in Immendingen under the direction of Stefanie Faas from Daimler’s Innowerkstatt (innovation workshop). The research looked at how pedestrians react to different signalling autonomous vehicles in various traffic situations. It became clear that light signalling has a strong effect on the acceptance of autonomously driving vehicles, as well as on how safe pedestrians feel. In particular, people wish for light signalling in situations where there was before interaction with the driver.

The vehicle body as a means of communication.

Going beyond the studies and the light signalling demonstrated based on the cooperative vehicle, Mercedes-Benz is already concerning itself with longer-range visions, which are intended to enable “informed trust” between humans and machines. Informed trust contrasts with blind trust and demands a certain knowledge of the object.

Here the entire outer skin of the vehicle becomes a communication medium for 360-degree communication. The conventional body is transformed into a “digital exterior”.

The Mercedes-Benz Vision URBANETIC.

Efficient and sustainable mobility.

Mercedes-Benz showed a first step in this direction back in 2015 with the F 015 research vehicle. Among other features, this has a digital grille, which can be used as a communication medium. A year later the Vision Van, an electrically powered van with integral delivery drones for transporting parcels over the last mile, picked up on this motif. This is fitted with digital LED grilles at the front and rear, which the vehicle can use to warn traffic behind, for example, with messages such as “Vehicle stopping”. In 2018, the Vision URBANETIC, a mobility concept for on-demand, efficient and sustainable mobility, took this design further.

Autonomous drive platform.

The concept comprising an autonomous drive platform with interchangeable modules for transporting cargo and passengers can communicate with its surroundings by means of “digital shadowing” on the body. For example, the shadow of a pedestrian will be displayed when the vehicle’s 360-degree sensors perceive someone nearby. Due to this interaction, the pedestrian can feel confident that the vehicle has detected them and can act accordingly. Building on these innovations, Mercedes-Benz is now working on other solutions that provide vehicle occupants and passers-by with the same information about the vehicle’s perceptions and subsequent actions. In addition, the vehicle occupants should be able to decide what the vehicle communicates outwardly. This creates a cocooning effect inside the vehicle so that the vehicle feels like a protected space for its passengers.

Car based on a Mercedes-Benz S-Class has 360-degree light signalling: the cooperative vehicle.