For Its New Concept, Mercedes-Benz Teamed Up with … James Cameron?

James Cameron raises the bar for CES concepts by helping Mercedes create an “Avatar”-inspired ride.

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While it may look like another concept car, all shimmery, futuristic and devoid of sharp angles, the Mercedes-Benz Vision AVTR concept unveiled at CES 2020 is anything but run of the mill. Inspired by the sustainability message of the movie Fern Gully Avatar (and the blockbuster’s forthcoming sequels), the Vision AVTR — it stands for “Advanced Vehicle Transformation,” but we see what they did there — is Mercedes’s forward-thinking crack at how man and machine may one day merge.

The result? A connected car that can sense your pulse and mimic it back; a vehicle that can extend your senses; a vehicle that practically becomes alive when you interact with it.

Sure, it’s all vaporware for now, but it’s still incredibly cool. The minute you sit inside the egg-shaped cockpit, the seat pulses back at you, matching your breathing and heartbeat. There’s no steering wheel or dashboard (it’s all one giant screen), but pop your hand over a giant joystick-of-sorts in the center console, and the car senses your hand and deploys a control mechanism to meet you. Menus are selected by holding your hand up and waving back and forth until illuminated icons appear in your palm. Select by closing your hand, and the car will pulse and hum in an indication of compliance.

The drivetrain is made of a revolutionary battery technology that’s graphene-based, using organic cell chemistry that doesn’t require rare metals or resources like nickel or cobalt. (It’s faster-charging, too.) It’s not scalable at this point, but rest assured, Mercedes engineers are working like mad to bring it to production.

The interior is comprised of sustainable materials, including a vegan “leather.” To further portray the car as a living organism, aerodynamic flaps that resemble scales actuate up and down even when the car is stopped, making it appear to breathe. The light strips were also purposefully set to pulse, like a neural network.

Before the Vision AVTR debuted on stage, Daimler chairman Ola Källenius told a packed Las Vegas auditorium that “connectivity is about more than just pairing your phone. It’s more satisfying when you can interact with the car like your friend.” While noting Merc’s commitment to be completely carbon–neutral by 2039, Källenius shared that the AVTR was meant to show how tech and nature can live symbiotically — which is how a natural partnership with James Cameron’s Avatar emerged.

Cameron himself turned up at the end of the presentation, telling the crowd he spends a ton of time thinking about what our future is going to look like. “Are we going to keep being takers or become caretakers?” the Oscar-winner mused. “Are we going to turn our back on our planet?”

“For Mercedes to make this commitment is great,” Cameron said. “It’s obviously a beautiful car and you can see the physical manifestation of a spiritual idea. And that inspires me. It may take years until it reaches model lines, but you have to start somewhere.”

Alex Mankowsky, a futurist with Mercedes-Benz who worked on the car for two years alongside Cameron’s production company Lightstorm Entertainment, added to the filmmaker’s thoughts while speaking with Gear Patrol. “Meaningful technology should connect us to nature,” Mankowsky said. “We are a part of nature, and this car gives us an opportunity to feel our environment.”

While it’s difficult to say what pieces of AVTR’s tech will percolate down to production lines first, Mankowsky believes that, as cars become semi-autonomous, omitting a steering wheel in favor of a joystick-style unit could be first. The gesture controls and the biometric responses of the car are also immediately downfield, Mankowsky said.

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