Mercedes built a prototype car for Avatar and we drove it

Zoom in / Many concepts are static models, but Mercedes-Benz built one that works. At low speed, anyway.

Mercedes Benz

When you think of the future of transportation, you probably don’t think of water dragons like the ones in James Cameron’s latest Avatar movie, Avatar: Water Road, which will be released on December 16. You might consider something more along the lines of the Mercedes-AVTR, which Mercedes debuted just before the pandemic at CES in 2020.

A collaboration between the producers and directors of the latest Avatar movie and the car company might seem unlikely — after all, there are no cars in the movie, and Vision AVTR doesn’t appear on screen. However, after spending an afternoon driving this out-of-this-world concept and getting a behind-the-scenes look at the new movie, it makes a lot of sense.

Jon Landau, COO of Lightstorm Entertainment and Academy Award-winning producer for symbol pictureVia video at the event we attended in Manhattan Beach, California.

“We think these films are about something. They challenge us to look at our world a little differently, to understand that our actions have an impact on the people around us and the world around us, and we were looking for partners who share the same kind of ethics as us. And I think Mercedes has a real vision of a sustainable future.” Landau told Ars.

The AVTR's interior has been featured in recent production Mercedes EVs such as the EQS and EQE.
Zoom in / The AVTR’s interior has been featured in recent production Mercedes EVs such as the EQS and EQE.

Mercedes Benz

Sustainable luxury has been Mercedes’ buzzword for some time now – ever since the launch of the Mercedes-Benz EQS in 2021. It’s easy to see the line between the AVTR line and the Mercedes EQ, as designers and engineers have been working on both in parallel. As it turns out, the joint venture between Cameron’s Avatar movie franchise and Mercedes yielded a wealth of inspiration and futuristic design direction for the German luxury brand, as well as some stuff that’s already being done in real-life cars.

New human car interface design

As a result of COVID, symbol picture The sequel has been pushed back, which means Mercedes has had some time to look at the roll-out concept. The company created the cockpit — a full-scale model — to show off some of the features of the future that incorporate everything from gesture control to using machine vision to extend the human in the cockpit to the outside world.

Cockpit AVTR Pak.
Zoom in / Cockpit AVTR Pak.

Abigail Bassett

If you know anything about symbol pictureYou know, the Na’vi people on Pandora connect, via their braids, to the dragons called Banshee that they ride. Similarly, the human being in the AVTR concept communicates via their heartbeat, using biometrics. While the charge we sat in to get a feel for the AVTR’s joystick-like steering (more on that below) didn’t have the sensors needed for biometric feedback, engineers designed it to simulate a heartbeat and use machine vision to see a human in the seat.

As you get into the car, she “wakes up” and almost seems to breathe with you. The pulsating lights appear to breathe or pulse with your heart rate, just as the Apple Watch does when it’s asleep. It gives the machine a vibrant effect and, as Mercedes spokespeople say, makes it feel more like a living, breathing thing than a car. The fins at the rear of the car—which are used for external communication (stop, go, turn, accelerate, etc.) and as a standard fluid spoiler to reduce wind resistance—flap and move.

The gauges can be backlit.
Zoom in / The gauges can be backlit.

Mercedes Benz

Both these scales and their movement were designed in collaboration with a university in Lausanne, Switzerland, that specializes in carbon fiber and organic robotics. Apparently, when Mercedes engineers started working on the tiny motors that move the escapement, the movement was too automated for the designers, so they brought it to university. Seeing the scales flutter and move gives the AVTR a completely organic feel, as if you were approaching an animal rather than a machine.

Once you climb up and place your hand on the only car-like control-like interface on the center console, the car starts. The controls feel like a stack of breathing stones, and Mercedes calls it Merge Control. It serves as the joystick (there is no steering wheel) for the car, and it builds on existing adaptive technology that allows people with disabilities to drive cars in the real world.

The full-width screen is reminiscent of the Mercedes used in the EQXX concept, except in another world.
Zoom in / The full-width screen is reminiscent of the Mercedes used in the EQXX concept, except in another world.

Mercedes Benz

When the vehicle is on and ready to drive, the display that stretches like a canvas across the front and center of the vehicle lights up. Since this is a concept created in close partnership with the producers of the Avatar films, the scenes on that screen are those of Pandora, and in contrast, driving an AVTR is like flying through a video game. The experience is immersive and complete with sound targeting every aspect of the vehicle to help better connect passengers to the outside world.

Of course, no concept vehicle would be complete without the addition of gesture control, because there are no buttons anywhere. Raise your inner hand, and an image will be projected onto your palm. Move your palm left or right, and you can see other icons available. To choose an option, close your hand into a fist as if you were holding the icon. In turn, I changed the landscape we were flying through by simply opening and closing my hand. While this may seem like a simple display technology, Mercedes says it used machine vision to map thousands of different hand colors, shapes, orientations, and sizes to make sure the feature would work consistently.

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