Facebook Riding Shotgun in New Mercedes Models
Drivers of future Mercedes-Benz cars will be able to access certain functions of Facebook and other Web hubs from their dashboards, thanks to the company's new Mbrace2 system. While the technology limits what a user can do while the auto's in motion, critics still see the addition of new interfaces to car dashboards as an unwelcome trend.
Facebook will be among the Internet services that can be accessed in new car models from Mercedes Benz.
Facebook access is just one of the new features in the second generation telematics system, called "Mbrace2," which will begin appearing in new Mercedes models this spring.
Introduced at CES 2012 in Las Vegas Tuesday, Mbrace2 will connect to the Internet through any 3G network and runs apps tailored for it by the car maker. In addition to a Mercedes flavor of Facebook, Mbrace2 offers access to Google and Yelp, as well as the viewing of information like stock prices and news.
A problem car makers face when they install software in their models is keeping that software current. With access to the Internet, however, Mercedes can push automatic updates to Mbrace2-enabled vehicles from the cloud.
Mercedes Mbrace2 offers a version of Facebook tailored for auto use. For example, all tasks that require text input are disabled while the car is moving. Some interaction can be conducted with the social network, however, through canned messages that can be posted with the tap of a screen or twist of a knob.
Information from the auto's navigation system can be automatically posted to Facebook, if a driver desires to do so.
In addition, drivers can access a list of friends near their current location, as well as nearby friends' favorites, such as restaurants.
One of Mercedes' engineering teams based in Palo Alto, Calif., worked with Facebook in putting together its social network app, the carmaker said.
The Facebook app will also play a role in a future telematic feature Mercedes has on the drawing board called "CarTogether." It will allow Mercedes drivers to discover people, like Facebook friends, who need a ride to a common location -- a concert, for instance, or a ball game.
Mercedes sees the kind of impromptu carpooling that CarTogether would foster as a tool that's beneficial not only for the environment, but also for a driver's social health.
Although Mercedes' Facebook app appears to be designed to provide minimal distraction to a driver, there are those that don't see it that way.
"Is it really that important for people to know what their Facebook status is that they need to risk their lives over it?" Bill Windsor, associate vice president for consumer safety for the Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, told TechNewsWorld.
"I can't imagine there's any Facebook message or email message or anything else you'd need from the Internet that's that important it would take precedence over focusing when you're driving."
Desire for Comfort
Auto makers, though, don't seem to agree with Windsor's analysis, as the trend in the industry is to pile more and more interfaces into a vehicle. That trend is driven by consumers who want to make the interior of their cars more like a living space than a driving space, according to Mike VanNieuwkuyk, executive director for global auto at J.D. Power Associates.
"The interior environment is becoming a personalized space for consumers," he told TechNewsWorld. "We spend so much time in our cars these days that we've created a desire that this space to become more comfortable."
Not only do consumers want their cars to be comfortable, but they want them to be less insular from the world around them. "We're seeing more and more of these applications, devices and features that allow us to customize how we want to connect with the outside world while we're in this captive environment," VanNieuwkuyk explained.
Distraction may not be the only hazard created by adding electronic creature comforts to a car. It may also be exposing motorists to new risks from the cyberworld, according to Ryan Permeh, principal security architect at McAfee.
Makers of unwired devices think nothing of adding wired capabilities to their products, he explained.
"When you throw a wireless adapter on something, the device still functions as it should, but what you just did is add a huge attack surface to it," he told TechNewsWorld.
"Very rarely do traditional manufacturers of these devices think about the security implications of what they do," he added.