Mercedes-Benz has gotten into the habit of bringing some rather forward-looking concept cars to CES. Two years ago, the company gave some of us late night rides down the Las Vegas Strip in its Smart Vision EQ concept car, even if that was actually a remote-controlled show car rather than a functional self-driving machine. I’m not on the ground at CES this year, so I didn’t get to see this year’s Mercedes concept in person, but it looks even more out there. It’s called the Vision AVTR, and the name is a clue—it was designed together with the people responsible for the movie Avatar. Yes, really.
Like most of us who saw the 2009 sci-fi film from James Cameron, I can’t remember much about it other than that it had elements of Dances with Wolves, but in space with blue giants, plus mining for “unobtanium” (which must have been discovered by the British, or it would surely have been called unobtainum). Looking at the photos Mercedes has released of the Vision AVTR aren’t helping fill in those gaps, but based on the description, it too requires some unobtainium—or at least some enabling technologies that have yet to be invented.
Mercedes says that the car uses graphene-based batteries that are biodegradable and use no rare-earth elements. (Graphene batteries are a thing people are working on, but it’s still the preserve of our Science section rather than anything showing up any time soon in a car you could buy or drive.)
At the back, 33 “bionic flaps” are meant to evoke reptile scales, and the vehicle apparently uses them to communicate with the driver and the outside world through “naturally flowing movements in subtle gestures.” And the front and rear electric motors can drive in the same or opposite directions for heightened maneuverability. In fact, the AVTR can (or could, if any of this actually existed for real) move sideways at a 30-degree angle in this manner.
Oh, and there’s no steering wheel; instead, occupants use a biometric connection that also uses their heart rate and breathing pattern to unlock the car.