I put the car in park, unplug the phone, and put Google Glass on my face. Within seconds, I’ve got step-by-step directions to a coffee shop down the street beamed directly to my eyeballs. This is what Mercedes-Benz has planned for the future, and not only do they have a functioning prototype, they’re working with Google to make it a reality.
It’s called “Door-to-Door Navigation,” and it’s just the latest in a string of high-tech pushes the automaker has made in the past few years. It started with Mercedes doubling its resources and employees at its Silicon Valley research center, which allowed the automaker to work on a thoroughly revised infotainment platform and develop one of the first comprehensive integrations of Apple’s iPhone into its entry level and youth-focused CLA.
Now, it’s Google’s turn.
“We definitely see wearable devices as another trend in the industry that is important to us,” says Johann Jungwirth, Mercedes’ North American R&D President & CEO. “We have been working with Glass for roughly six months and meeting with the Google Glass team regularly.” And it’s helpful that Google HQ is just a 10-minute drive from the automaker’s Palo Alto research facility.
We’ve already established that cars are the killer app for Google Glass. And Mercedes agrees. The German automaker’s R&D center snagged two pairs of Google’s goggles as soon as they became available — recognizing the potential — and started hacking away.
The first application is a navigation program that allows you to enter an address through Google Glass, get in your car, plug in your phone, and then the destination is transferred to the in-dash navigation system. Once you’ve arrived near the restaurant/bar/nightclub/BBQ joint and unplug your phone, the system re-transfers the data back to Glass to complete the journey. And based on hands-on time, it works. But the way it works is … a little rough.
Google doesn’t offer Glass support for the iPhone. Yet. And the Mercedes “Digital DriveStyle App” doesn’t work with Android. Yet. (Jungwirth tells WIRED that iOS is the dominant platform for Mercedes owners). So in order for the destination information to be sent from the car to Glass, Mercedes connects to its own cloud server between the iPhone and the embedded infotainment system. Google Glass handles the communication between the two, and the trigger to communicate is the disconnection of the iPhone from the car. When that happens, it contacts the server, connects to Glass, and downloads the destination information.
Jungwirth is quick to point out that this elaborate dance of connections is just a proof of concept.
“This is, perhaps, not how we will accomplish it when we launch it as a product,” Jungwirth told WIRED. “As we are in talks with Google about making a direct connection to Glass work, but it is how our prototype works today.”
Jungwirth makes it clear that Mercedes has every intention of integrating some form of Google Glass functionality into its future products. And by the time Glass goes into production in the next year, Mercedes may have something to offer its customers. In the meantime, Jungwirth says that Android integration for Mercedes vehicles is coming in 2014.