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Mercedes-Benz taps Will.i.am to create an ‘interactive musical experience’ for its cars

Mercedes-Benz taps Will.i.am to create an ‘interactive musical experience’ for its cars

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Lo-fi beats to drive to? Or the automotive equivalent of Apple selling iPhones preloaded with unsolicited U2 music?

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Mercedes-Benz MBUX vehicle interior
Image: Mercedes-Benz AG

People love to play their music while driving, but unless you’re some sort of wizard with control over time and space, rarely does the beat actually match up with the rhythm of acceleration and steering. Mercedes-AMG aims to change that with a new “interactive musical experience” that it’s created along with musician and entrepreneur Will.i.am.

At CES this year, the automaker announced MBUX Sound Drive, a new feature that uses sensors and software to link music to driving. It’s hard to describe, but Mercedes says it’s composed musical tracks to pair with regular functions like recuperation, acceleration, steering, and braking, turning the whole car — as Will.i.am puts it — into its own “orchestra.”

A new feature that uses sensors and software to link the music to the driving

Drivers would opt in by selecting Sound Drive through their infotainment screen, which then connects the car’s hardware with the music software through “precise ‘in-car signals’ that enable the music to react to the driving characteristics in real-time.”

Mercedes envisions this working in several different ways. For example, soothing music would start playing when the windshield wipers are turned on — in essence, matching inclement weather with lo-fi beats for driving. Meanwhile, an EDM beat would get progressively faster as you accelerate down the highway.

It’s an interesting idea, mainly because sound and music have always played a central role in driving. Whether it’s Carpool Karaoke or Ansel Elgort’s getaway driver character rocking out to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion in Baby Driver, the inclusion of familiar lyrics or a heart-thumping beat can turn any errand or road trip into a memorable experience.

Of course, in the era of electric vehicles, music and other diegetic sounds become more heightened thanks to the absence of an internal combustion engine. But while some try to fill the void with fake exhaust through external speakers, others are aiming for something more pleasant. The Fiat 500e, for example, uses classical music as its automatic low-speed sound, which is legally required to alert pedestrians and others who are visually impaired.

It’s an interesting idea, mainly because sound and music have always played a central role in driving

But if Bach or Will.i.am aren’t your most played artists, have no fear: Mercedes says it wants Sound Drive to be an “open music platform” so any musician can create their own auditory soundscape for driving. Using the company’s MBUX operating system, artists from around the world are invited to “create tracks” for a variety of driving functions. Imagine telling someone you’re an aspiring Sound Drive musician or that you composed the windshield wiper beat.

This project certainly seems more well suited to Will.i.am’s skill set given his spotty track record with tech startups. His smart home startup, Wink, has struggled to stay afloat, he’s been a ubiquitous, if baffling, presence at CES in years past, and his smartwatch... well, the less said, the better.

Sound Drive will be available to owners of Mercedes-AMG and Mercedes-Benz vehicles equipped with the second generation of the MBUX system starting in mid-2024. The feature can be downloaded via an over-the-air software update. Pricing information was not immediately available.