• Apr 30, 2013

Mercedes-Benz MBrace2 connects drivers via 3G, smartphone apps

Kyle Thibaut
Telematics systems like OnStar, BMW Assist, Bluelink, SYNC and UConnect all offer similar services like 9-1-1 assist when an airbags deploy, stolen vehicle tracking, and live connection to an operator. Still, some stand out above the rest. MBrace2 from Mercedes-Benz does just that.

MBrace2 is Mercedes' second generation telematics system. It uses a cloud connection over 3G to provide new services, most notably Mercedes-Benz Apps. This new internet-based service includes access to Facebook, Google and Yelp!, as well as news and stocks. In addition to the internet-based apps, MBrace2 also includes new services that are more Mercedes-specific. These offer a more transparent view into a vehicle's use, or misuse.

Curfew Minder alerts owners with a text message if their car is taken out for a late night joyride. Driving Journal plots out the vehicle's historical trajectory along a map that can be loaded on any web browser. There are also other services such as Speed Alert, Valet Protect, and a smartphone app that can lock and unlock the doors, sound the horn, and locate the car's exact location.

"We were the first to bring the mobile app for the car to market and now we're going to lead the way in liberating the vehicle from traditional constraints by bringing the most comprehensive connected services platform into the automobile," said Mercedes-Benz USA President and CEO Steve Cannon.

Mercedes-Benz MBrace2 Smartphone App Demonstration

When MBrace was first launched, it offered roadside assistance, emergency response in an accident, and a concierge for making restaurant reservations and finding the next nearest gas station. In addition, MBrace also supported stolen vehicle tracking, which made headlines for helping to assist law enforcement in finding the Boston bombing suspects.

Now, thanks to the 3G data connection, MBrace2 can further integrate with owners' digital lifestyle. In our C63 AMG press vehicle we tested a feature called Send2Benz, a route delivery tool that forwards predetermined map instructions to the car from a web browser or smartphone app. We found that Mercedes' COMAND infotainment platform was able to display the route in less than a few seconds after we pressed "send." Some commands, like locking and unlocking the vehicle, take a bit longer.

Mercedes also allows over-the-air (OTA) updates of the system, something only Tesla is doing right now. Using a data connection, Mercedes can send encrypted and trusted updates to the car without requiring a visit to the dealer. Robert Policano, product manager for MBrace at Mercedes-Benz USA, said these OTA updates would roll out later this year. Most importantly, OTA updates mean that in-car technology can continue to evolve, even after a Mercedes leaves the factory.

"Traditionally, in-vehicle technology is finalized more than a year before a vehicle comes to market and is difficult to upgrade. The MBrace2 system solves the vehicle electronics lifecycle conundrum in a unique way, creating a truly networked vehicle that is always online, always upgradeable," said Cannon.


In addition to these updates, Mercedes is also treating their native in-car app environment quite differently than others. All on-screen graphics and app activity is processed off-site before being sent to the car over the cloud. The advantage to this method, aside from added features and software stability, is that Mercedes engineers can redesign elements of the interface remotely. If they feel customers are having difficulty navigating around the menus, they can push out an update that goes live immediately.

The hardware, however, is set in stone--it's all supplied by Continental. The 3G internet connection is provided by Verizon, and Hughes Telematics is behind telemetry functionality.

As one would expect, such a comprehensive service isn't free. Mercedes charges $280 per year for the least expensive package in the MBrace three-tier pricing structure. That $280 per year includes almost everything except concierge, Mercedes-Benz Apps, and Family Driver Monitoring, which includes Driving Journal, Travel Zones, and Speed Alert. Those features cost an additional $34 per month (nearly $700 per year, total): $20 per month for MBrace PLUS and $14 per month for Mercedes-Benz Apps.

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