Your next EV might help you compose tunes if Mercedes-Benz and Will.I.Am have their way. The automaker teamed up with the rapper for CES 2024 to turn vehicle inputs and in-car signals to musical expressions, with the aim of turning the car into a “virtual musical instrument.”
Called MBUX Sound Drive, the technology reacts to driving behavior – braking, acceleration, steering inputs, and energy recuperation – and interprets it into little tunes and ditties. The system debuted at the same time as the automaker’s MB.OS software, but Sound Drive will be available on today’s Benzes, as well as future models.
I sampled it at CES, and I was surprised how fun and enjoyable the system was. When waiting at a stop sign or idling around a parking lot, Sound Drive plays a simple bass or percussion line. As your speed increases, new layers get added to the musical staff, with melodies, harmonies, and vocals appearing in succession. The music crescendos once you reach the speed limit, meaning it won’t necessarily encourage drivers to go faster than is prudent, but it does make for a neat little party trick around town.
And the “propulsion noises,” if you can call them that, are more unique and novel than the Porsche Taycan’s Electric Sport Sound or the Ford Mustang Mach-E GT’s synthesized exhaust growl. Folks disappointed with piped-in mechanical noises will either love Sound Drive for being original or hate it for being even more distanced from internal combustion. I also could see it getting a bit bothersome or hypnotic in stop-and-go traffic, but if that’s the case, it’s easy to turn off.
Mercedes also hopes to turn MBUX Sound Drive into an open music platform. Musicians and artists from around the world may someday be able to compose a variety of different genres, using a new format that’ll be compatible with the system. That’ll allow drivers to choose just the right vibe for their commute, scenic route, or canyon blast.
“MBUX Sound Drive enhances driving and sound technology, letting motorists reshape music just by driving,” stated Will.I.Am in a Mercedes press release. “I’m excited to see how composers, producers, and songwriters will harness this to create new works and reimagine classics for motorists to drive to.”
During MBUX Sound Drive’s media-only introduction, Will.I.Am said that the system would be the most significant change to how people appreciate music in their cars. “It opens up a whole new way to create sound designs. It’s no longer a two-minute experience. It’s multi-dimensional.”
The system will arrive on all Mercedes-Benz and Mercedes-AMG vehicles with the second-generation MBUX system in the second half of 2024. It’ll also be available to existing drivers with compatible infotainment via an on-demand over-the-air update in the infotainment system.