- Will.i.am’s new tech startup, Sound Drive, debuted an in-car audio experience at the CES 2024 tech event.
- It works with Mercedes in-car sound systems, enabling music to respond to various driving inputs, like steering and acceleration.
Will.i.am’s new startup, Sound Drive, has partnered with Mercedes-Benz to reshape in-car audio.
Debuting at the CES 2024 tech conference, Sound Drive is set to launch in Mercedes-Benz’s electric EQ models this summer, according to Will.i.am speaking at a TechCrunch press event.
The core concept of Sound Drive is not just to create a dynamic in-car soundscape but to revolutionize how music is experienced during a drive.
Tracks will be “conducted by the road,” as Will.i.am puts it.
The system utilizes vehicle parameters, such as throttle input and brake pressure, to remix and reshape songs in real time. It harmonizes with the car’s Electronic Control Unit (ECU), transforming it into a multi-channel mixer controlled by the driver’s actions.
Integration with the sound system itself is facilitated through the MBUX infotainment system.
Mercedes-Benz CTO Markus Schäfer elaborated, “It’s around 10 segments roughly that we are using at the moment,” indicating the extent to which the vehicle’s parameters influence the music.
The technology enables the music to respond intelligently to the driver’s inputs. For instance, at the CES Conference, the song “Woman” by Doja Cat, played through Sound Drive in a Mercedes-AMG EQE SUV, evolved from a subtle rhythm at idle to a full-bodied track as the vehicle accelerated.
If you’re picturing yourself hurtling down the freeway blasting increasingly loud music through your AI Mercedes sound system, then Schäfer emphasized that the system actually encourages safe driving, as the music doesn’t reward reckless behavior.
Will.i.am envisions a future where Sound Drive allows the geotagging of samples, creating musical narratives tied to specific locations and memories.
It’s pretty leftfield and novel, but Mercedes has experience there, as they’ve been among the first to integrate AI into cars, including using ChatGPT to improve its in-car voice control.
Initially launching in high-performance AMG and AMG-Line EQ models, Mercedes-Benz plans to extend Sound Drive across its range.
Will.i.am sees Sound Drive as a stepping stone into a new era of music. He criticizes the current state of music production, which he feels is outdated, and sees Sound Drive as a way to bring the dynamic experience of live music into everyday drives.
While some manufacturers opt for artificial engine sounds, Mercedes-Benz and Will.i.am are aiming for a more immersive and pleasant experience.
Despite Will.i.am’s mixed track record in tech startups, this project seems well-aligned with his expertise.
Sound Drive is expected to be available for Mercedes-AMG and Mercedes-Benz vehicles with the second-generation MBUX system from mid-2024, accessible via an over-the-air software update.