Tyler Suiters:

Hey everybody, I'm Tyler Suiters with the Consumer Technology Association. We are the owners and producers of CES, the most influential tech event in the world. And we are here to help you get CES ready. The big show is January 11th through the 14th, 2021. And this year, it is an all-digital show. We're re-imagining CES, supporting what makes CES unique, yes, but also enabling you to connect with new global audiences. At CES 2021, you're going to hear from the world's leading tech innovators, all from the comfort of your own home and office, a much safer setting, of course, in this pandemic era. Exhibitors will launch their latest projects and you can connect with global brands, the hottest startups, and one another, and it will be all digital. A personalized experiential event, engaging content, captivating imagery, dynamic presentations, a new experience for you, and a front-row seat to discover and see the latest tech.

Tyler Suiters:

The categories, well, they're familiar to you by now. Digital health, smart cities and resilience, applications of AI, 5G, drones, and vehicle technology. And that last category is what we're focusing on today. It's a conversation with Mercedes-Benz and the Daimler Group, blazing the trail in vehicle tech. Now CTA research shows that we are actually using our cars, or more excited about them in this COVID era. 42% of us say that constant access to a private vehicle is more important to us now than it was before the pandemic started. And among those of us who had driven before the pandemic, a third of us are likely to travel that same way more often, post-pandemic, using our own cars.

Tyler Suiters:

So, today's conversation is with the chief design officer of Mercedes-Benz and the Daimler Group. How design and technology intersect and how they create something that's really more than a car. It's a digital companion. That's all coming up today on this edition of CES Tech Talk. Joining us today from Germany is Gordon Wagener. He is Chief Design Officer of Mercedes-Benz and Daimler Group. Gordon, [foreign language 00:02:31], I believe that's a proper greeting. I'm not sure what time it is there, but great to have you with us, nonetheless.

Gordon Wagener:

Nice accent though, Tyler, how are you?

Tyler Suiters:

Highly practiced. Yeah. Yeah. Thank you. So, you're in Germany right now. How are you? How are you coping with the situation, and especially as a global traveler, how are you juggling all these restrictions?

Gordon Wagener:

Oh, pretty good. I spent quite some time in the U.S. and then I transferred here, I'll go back to Europe, to Germany, back to the headquarters. We do what everybody's doing, we use V-conferences. We do sessions in small circles with the designers. I mean, working with the cars you have to be in the studio, but of course, we take all precautions, like distance, masks, whatsoever, and try to stay safe. But, with our global design network, we have these design studios around the globe from California to Portland, to China, Beijing, to South America, to India, around the globe. We are used to dealing with long-distance commuting. Not only commuting, I commuted, not communications. Yeah. And design communications, video conferences stuff. So, that wasn't really new to us. And we just learned to use it a little better now.

Tyler Suiters:

Yeah. Well, we all have to adapt, right?

Gordon Wagener:

Yeah. And in fact, save so much time. I mean, think about the morning commute, right. You can sleep an hour later and be happy, just write in the first meeting. Right. It's a digital world.

Tyler Suiters:

Yeah. We're all here in Washington, D.C., and skipping any kind of commute that avoids crossing the Potomac River is a blessing for all of us. So, yeah. The tech is helping us all connect better and stay productive during this interim. I'd like to start by jumping back a little earlier though, than the start of the pandemic and that is CES 2020. What a splash that you all made with the VISION AVTR. I mean, it's designed with a very futuristic look, a throwback a bit though to Tron and the 1980s and that futuristic look. What was your vision for the VISION, so to speak, and your reaction to its debut?

Gordon Wagener:

Yeah. That was really as good as it gets, and CES was a perfect stage to launch that car in front of a huge audience. And remember, the last big launch was the F Cell 15 that autonomous driving car in 2015. And ever since we haven't done such a big thing again, and now with Avatar, it got so much bigger even. First of all, working with the Lightstone guys, especially with John Landau and his design team was very inspirational. We as basic car and interaction designers, working with movie designers, science fiction designers, I mean, that's a dream come true. And therefore, of course, we wanted to create something that is very, very different to anything else you have seen before. Very tactical with a lot of new interfaces. When you see the gesture, the projection.

Gordon Wagener:

Actually, the idea was that this car is not a car. It's a living organism. And you put your hand over that connection device. You can also drive it with that, but you connect with the vehicle and like an avatar, you become one. And so there's so much content, so many creative ideas in that project. So, that was phenomenal. Even when you look at the wheels, which are not really wheels, they are these balls where it can drive sideways and it'll probably drive on Pandora.

Tyler Suiters:

So, the other side of that sword, if you will, Gordon, to having so much attention on a product launch, or a concept drop, you need to top it the next year, or you have to raise the bar a little higher. So, with that in mind, what do you have planned for CES 2021 an all-digital experience so a different new you, what are you looking for in the show to come?

Gordon Wagener:

Well, AVTR was a big show, it was a big movie. This year we want to deliver something more concrete, we created, we will present the first glass IP. So, instrument panel. So, typically, of course, the dashboard is leather and plastic and material. And this time we de-metrolised it. So, it's not material anymore, it's just protection. It's a free form, three-dimensional OLET screen that will revolutionize the interior of cars. Because it's not physical anymore, it's digital. And it all started with a... And that's a cool thing. It all started with a design sketch. In the ideation phase, we do these concepts or concept work. And actually that came from one of our satellite studios in Como, Italy, interior studio, when we launched this project five years ago or so. And there was that sketch that I liked so much, it showed a glass IP complete display.

Gordon Wagener:

And we said, "Hey, we need to do that." And we found a partner to make it happen and actually turn it into three-dimensional. And this is the special part about it. It's not flat, it's curved and three-dimensionally curved. And everybody who's in this place knows how difficult that is to achieve. But that's a cool thing with OLET, that you can do that. And not only two-dimensional, three-dimensional, and that's the revolutionary part about it. So, I think, we call it the hyper screen. But, again, it's a virtual instrument panel and that's so much more futuristic than anything else you have ever seen in a car before.

Tyler Suiters:

So, you're talking about an interface that was, as you just said Gordon, originally sketched or the fruition of the idea started with your team in Italy. But, it sounds a lot, as I dive in a little bit into what the hyper screen is, to really the concept of Bauhaus, is that fair to say, is that a correct comparison?

Gordon Wagener:

Not quite actually. I mean, of course, we have a long gym and design tradition which started with the Bauhaus design and culture, which was based pretty much on simplicity. And it went on over the school of OEM. It actually influenced Apple's design. And we as designers and especially at Mercedes, we lost simplicity. My old saying, if you like it take the line off, if you still like take another line off. And that applies to everything we do, whether it's a screen or whether it's an interface, or user interaction interface, MBX. And it's so much harder to take stuff out than to add stuff.

Gordon Wagener:

So, simplicity goes back to Bauhaus, but yeah, we want to make simplicity sexy. We want to have emotion about it and beauty. And this is the other part of our philosophy, our philosophy is sensual purity. That means we have something that is sensual, beautiful, sexy, on longhand red hot. And then we have the cool pod that is clean, reduced, simple. And so with these opposites, they're almost like heart and brain, and this is how we are made us as humans. And this is why I truly believe in this philosophy. And we keep evolving it almost like an operating system, like 1.0, 1.5, 2.0, 3.5 with larger and smaller steps. But we are not changing the thinking, we are not changing our belief. This is almost our religion, and this is what we truly believe in.

Gordon Wagener:

And again, we applied it to MBUX, which made it a very significant, easy to use, beautiful in-action system in automotive. Which we, in the latest version we presented that summer. But was it two or three years ago when we? Three years? Probably three years I don't remember. When we presented that we launched it at the CS, Sasha and myself, at the press conference. And coming back to the screen. Yeah, it is about simplicity, of course, it's just a glass surface, but again, it's sensual, it's three-dimensional proofed. And therefore, we combine these two things. These two poles of our philosophy also in this piece of design.

Tyler Suiters:

Gordon, if you would talk about how your design vision comes to life in a way? When you talk about the car and, well, what we would currently call the driver, but we may have another term for that moving forward, come together as one and interact? Where are we now? And where do we go from here? And this is all according to your vision, right? What do you see?

Gordon Wagener:

Yeah, it's pretty much that vision we showed with the AVTR, what we were talking about earlier. That the user and the machine become one and that hyper screen is one step in that direction. That again, the whole IP is an interface that connects the driver with the machine. And of course, artificial intelligence will help a lot in that way to predict more, to understand the person better that is driving or operating that car. Of course, with autonomous driving, it will still take a little bit until that will be fully there, but eventually, it will be. That open's a completely new dimension because then the car really becomes the third place. Not at work, not at home, you homeless on the street then. And when the doors are autonomous as you can fully take advantage of all interaction features, because they're not distracted with the driving anymore.

Gordon Wagener:

And as the car gets smarter and smarter and smarter, also that interaction will be better, and better, and better because it's all about simplicity. Again, it will be easier. It will be more intuitive. It will be, of course, voice will probably increase a little bit. But even though voice will be more dominant people want to have a visual interface. People want to look at something, to confirm for them, especially when you're driving. When you go somewhere, you want to see a map. If the car tells you, "You will be there in 10 minutes and you're currently on that bridge." You maybe look out of the window and see the bridge, but, you want to have a visual reference.

Tyler Suiters:

Right.

Gordon Wagener:

And that will not change. So, I don't think we will see smaller screens in the future. No, not at all. I'm a true believer. This is the first of a completely new kind of interiors. And we're, actually, the first one on the planet that actually do that. And it will change car interiors forever.

Tyler Suiters:

Is this the idea of a computer on wheels, Gordon? I mean, that's a bit of an inelegant phrase, I think, in your very... [crosstalk 00:15:32].

Gordon Wagener:

... Diverse supercomputer on wheels. Yeah. That's, what's cars of the future are about the supercomputers on wheels.

Tyler Suiters:

Yeah. And do you think that our experience and I say our in the professional world, the working world? When we've been forced to adapt so much more quickly to the technologies who may not have been this familiar with whether it's video conferencing, higher levels of connectivity, whatever it might be. We've been forced to adapt to that constant screen in our lives, now. Do you see that driving this forward and that we're more accepting as a consumer base, or as a customer base, of having that computer with us all the time that we not just, will be on one ticket, I think, is where I'm going, Gordon? It's what we need that at all times.

Gordon Wagener:

I don't think it's about adapting. It's about technology, you should adapt to the human that way around, but not the human to that technology. Because then it's good tech when it adapts to the human and helps him to do things easier, makes life better, more healthy, whatsoever, safer, more convenient. Convenience is a matter of locally, definitely. So, we try to make tech adapt to the user and not the other way around.

Tyler Suiters:

When you started your career in the auto industry, I think, you can use different terminologies, but you were a car designer, so to speak.

Gordon Wagener:

I'm still a car designer.

Tyler Suiters:

But let's be honest, Gordon. You are far more in the tech sector than you were in 2010, maybe even seven years ago, right? I mean, you're a tech center designer now.

Gordon Wagener:

Yeah. Car design and my job are like the renaissance in design because it combines all different design disciplines you can imagine. When I started as a car designer, I loved the art aspect and I loved that the car itself, it's a three-dimensional shape. It's the most advanced object to design. And I love the artwork aspect, big renderings, shiny glossy renderings, and stuff. Now, my job is a 360-degree design responsibility. Which, of course, still involves exterior designs, and working with the clay, and working with the sculpture. And yeah, I love that. And interior design is like the interior design of a house. So, we actually design houses. We do architecture, exterior architecture, interior design architecture. We do for clients, for our own showrooms, for exhibition booze, for the CES whatsoever. And then we do fashion design. We do collaborations like the one I did with Virgil Abloh this year with the G-wagon, which actually was an art project.

Gordon Wagener:

So, we also do art. We have that odd label. And then of course we have the big, big, like what you mentioned that big growing field of, let's say, tech design, user interaction design, software design. And again, I explained that earlier, we still wanted to use our automotive background in approaching software. That's why MBX, for instance, is different looking to operating systems on smartphones, on TVs whatsoever. You still see the beauty aspect of it. You see these fantastic visuals. We want it to be different. We want it to be more rich. And definitely, we as a company want it to be more luxury. That's a very, very important part for our mother brand Mercedes, but also, of course, for all luxury sub-brands like AMG, Maybach, the new EG brand, even more for tech.

Gordon Wagener:

And we even do the advertising side of things. So, it's really 360-degree and that's what makes it interesting. And I have to mention a screen and stock without software. So, therefore we are not only presenting that hyper screen. We also present a completely new level of interface on that screen, that comes with that screen, the next level of MBX. And we have internally, we call it the Zero Layer. So, that's an invention from the design department saying, "When you're driving, why do you want to switch layers? Why don't you have everything on one layer and things pop up with AI."

Gordon Wagener:

Things pop up in certain use cases, for one, you always have the map as the main cameras, because again, that's what you typically use for driving. And when you see the top use cases in the car is always navigation, phone media, that's pretty much it, everything else is secondary. And so, we give more emphasis on these main use cases. So, let's say we cleaned up the entrance hall and the basement is probably the same, but you hardly go in the basement. Maybe the [crosstalk 00:21:02] and get some wine or so from the cellar.

Gordon Wagener:

So, we didn't want to hang the Mona Lisa in the cellar. Right. We wanted to hang it in the main hall. And that's what we did. And I think, again, we were talking about simplicity earlier. I think that's a major step towards simplicity in the operating system. And again, something nobody else has done before. I'm truly convinced you will love it.

Tyler Suiters:

Gordon Wagener is Chief Design Officer with Mercedes-Benz and the Daimler group. And Gordon, yours is a global brand that is known for projecting an ambitious vision of the industry's future at CES every year. Can't wait to see you at CES 2021. And thanks for all your insight and time today.

Gordon Wagener:

Yeah. Thank you so much. It was such a pleasure and I'm really looking forward to getting together with all of you guys again. Can't wait.

Tyler Suiters:

All right. That is a wrap for this edition of CES Tech Talk. As you know, CES transcends the traditional tech industry, companies use CES as a platform to show how they're embracing technology and also evolving their businesses. Companies large and small find a valuable platform at CES. And in 2021, this show is a critical event for companies to launch and showcase new products and innovations. They can make major announcements during media day, demo products via live events, video content, digital activations, and you can engage directly with your target audiences through live chat and meetings. Now, we want you to be CES ready for all of this. And a good step is what you're doing right now, listening to the CES Tech Talk podcast, but do yourself a favor, subscribe to the podcast as well, and that way you won't miss a single episode as we head for the big show.

Tyler Suiters:

Speaking of CES 2021, it's January 11th through the 14th. The latest information is at ces.tech. That is ces.tech. And be sure to check in there regularly because new announcements seem to be coming out all the time. Now, none of this is remotely possible without the true stars of our podcast. Our executive producer, Jennifer Drogas, our assistant producer, Krista Nemeroff and our senior studio engineer, John Lindsey, you all are the best in the business. I'm Tyler Suiters, let's talk tech again soon.

 
 

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