Mercedes' CES showcar is an Avatar-inspired look at an autonomous future

Called Vision AVTR, this Mercedes-Benz concept looks to merge driver with car through biometric tech and an immersive look at the world outside.

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Steven Ewing spent his childhood reading car magazines, making his career as an automotive journalist an absolute dream job. After getting his foot in the door at Automobile while he was still a teenager, Ewing found homes on the mastheads at Winding Road magazine, Autoblog and Motor1.com before joining the CNET team in 2018. He has also served on the World Car Awards jury. Ewing grew up ingrained in the car culture of Detroit -- the Motor City -- before eventually moving to Los Angeles. In his free time, Ewing loves to cook, binge trash TV and play the drums.
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Steven Ewing
Emme Hall
3 min read

Some futuristic, way-off concept cars look like they're straight out of the movie Avatar. Mercedes-Benz's latest concept, debuting at CES 2020 on Monday, takes that connection one step further. Called Vision AVTR, for Advanced Vehicle Transformation, the show car is the result of an actual partnership between Mercedes-Benz and James Cameron's far-out film franchise.

Make no bones about it, this is a crazy-weird concept car. (Then again, have you seen Avatar?) Mercedes-Benz says it all starts with an "inside-out design structure" that combines the car's interior and exterior into an "emotional whole."

The general shape is your typical futuristic bar of soap, with a light-up badge and illuminated spokes in the wheels. The car has no doors, and around back, the Vision AVTR has 33 movable, multidirectional "bionic flaps" that are meant to look like scales on a reptile. It's not really clear how, but these supposedly supply the vehicle with energy, along with providing the driver and passengers with incredible views of the outside world. These projections are then displayed on a huge screen in the front of the vehicle, which has a kind of triangular (OK, thong-shaped) design.

Mercedes-Benz Vision AVTR

Views from the outside are projected into the interior.


When you sit inside the Vision AVTR, the car detects your pulse (and affirms it with a thump on the seat back) and can sense your breathing. Mercedes says this biometric connection is integral to how the concept operates; it wants to merge passenger and automobile into a kind of "symbiotic organism." The pulsing control pad on the console is where you rest your hand upon entering the car, and this is where you'll manage all of the vehicle's key functions.

When you lift your hand, a menu screen is projected onto your palm, where you can "explore the world of Pandora from different perspectives" -- as in, the planet where Avatar is set. The seat design is also inspired by the hammocklike structures the Avatar characters sleep in, so you feel supported but also recumbent.

Should you have passengers or children on board, Mercedes says the Vision AVTR can adapt its functions accordingly. "Screens can be used to monitor the well-being of the children in the rear by the parents at the front," the company said in a statement. In fact, the front passenger's pulse is displayed in light on the seat backs, which is supposed to give your kids "a sense of connectedness and security."

Also, fun fact: Mercedes' statement refers to children as "inmates." And for them, the Vision AVTR has what the company calls a Magic Pool, which "offers learning-oriented gaming and a child-friendly augmented reality experience." Points of interest along the drive route -- rivers, mountains, buildings -- are shown with facts and info. It's a learn-as-you-go type thing.

Mercedes-Benz Vision AVTR

These 33 "bionic flaps" are meant to look like scales on a reptile.


A big theme of this concept is sustainability. The seats are made from vegan materials; the floor is made from a new wood type called Karuun, which grows as a natural, raw material, harvested by hand in Indonesia. What's more, the power source for the Vision AVTR is a new battery technology made up of graphene-based organic cell chemistry, which is totally free of rare earths and metals. The battery materials are compostable.

As for the rest of the car's mechanicals, we don't have a lot to go on. The Vision AVTR is autonomous, and it can crab-walk side to side, thanks to front and rear axles that can turn sideways up to 30 degrees.

What does this all mean for the future of Mercedes-Benz? It's kind of hard to say. There are a lot of forward-thinking concepts and technologies baked into this show car, but really, it exists less as a vision of the German automaker's future and more of a one-off creation with Avatar in mind. Either way, it's definitely something that could've come from the mind of James Cameron.

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