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Electric

will.i.am and Mercedes have teamed up to remix music… while you drive

Coming this summer, ‘Sound Drive’ mixes songs live in time with how you’re driving

Published: 10 Jan 2024

Bored of your Spotify playlists? Struggle to choose the right vibe for a journey? Will.i.am might be able to help.

The Black Eyed Peas frontman has spent the last year working on a project with Mercedes to create music while driving. Not with instruments – with sensors planted inside a Benz. Okay sit tight – here comes the tech explanation.

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Taking readings from ten sensors around a car, Sound Drive monitors throttle and brake position, acceleration, power recuperation, suspension travel and steering angle. And it then ‘composes’ whatever you’re listening to into something that fits the moment.

So, if you’re stationary in traffic, Sound Drive basically improvs quietly in the background. But the music builds as you pull away. Floor the throttle and there’s a bass drop. Change lanes and there’s reverb and effects. Dive onto the brakes and the tempo reduces as your speed falls. It sounds like a gimmick, but we’ve had a go in a prototype EQE AMG with Sound Drive on board, and it’s actually pretty entertaining.

It doesn’t work for all songs – in fact a Sound Drive-compatible version needs to be concocted before the car starts DJ-ing to your inputs. But Mercedes reckons AI might be able to help in creating a chunky back catalogue of music for any occasion.

“I’ve won Grammys before – this is bigger than a Grammy,” will told TopGear.com. “A Grammy signifies something that’s impacted culture, looking back. This is about what you can do looking forward.

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“I remember going to Affalterbach to work with the AMG team. I’ve played Super Bowls and stadium concerts and I don’t get nervous in front of crowds, but the day we pitched this to Markus [Schaefer, Mercedes CTO) and Ola [Kallenius, Mercedes CEO] was the most nervous I’ve been in a long time.

“The idea came from experiencing the EQS which has a sound generator that mimics a V8. I was in one doing about 20mph through a turn and my sound sensors didn’t ‘believe’ the noise [the car was making]."

Mercedes leant will and his team an EQS, which they duly filled with computers talking to various sensors while they worked on perfecting the effect. It’s now due to be rolled out via over-the-air updates for the current EQ range in the summer of 2024, and will be exclusive to Mercedes for the time being.

There’s no word yet what Sound Drive will cost, either as a subscription or for individual songs, but it’s a compelling idea for making regular commuting entertaining, especially in electric cars which generate so little of their own ambient noise.

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