Movie tie-ins, especially those involving sci-fi movies and cars, are oftentimes tenuous at best. While our inner child likes seeing a Nissan Rogue weave around the AT-ATs from Star Wars, dumping a pedestrian car in a fantastical world just emphasizes how boring said car actually is. So when we heard that Mercedes-Benz was partnering with James Cameron’s Avatar for its presentation at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), we were expecting to see a computer-generated render of a Na’vi driving a B-Class or something.
Instead we saw an incredibly daring concept: the Mercedes-Benz VISION AVTR. And from a design perspective, we dare to say it’s a success. You see, rather than try and bring a car to the fantastical world of Pandora, Mercedes-Benz brought Pandora to its car. Or rather, they made its car a true denizen of Pandora.
Rip the iconic three-pointed star off the front and the VISION AVTR could reasonably be assumed to be a living, breathing character from the movie. Its radical curves make it look as if it could be an incredibly large seed, with the pulsating lights that envelop the wheels looking like bio-luminescent extensions of the Tree of Voices.
Mechanically actuated “scales” live in place of a rear window, each of which is able to independently articulate and serve as a communication device between the driver and the world outside. To the nerd writing this piece, however, they make the Mercedes-Benz VISION AVTR look like a Scalebeast in attack mode from Final Fantasy XIII. Both references are nerdy sci-fi fantasy, so we guess it all checks out. Mercedes-Benz is also quick to point out that both the front and rear wheels can rotate in sync up to 30 degrees, giving this concept the unique ability to crabwalk from side to side. We don’t quite have a pop-culture reference for that one, so we’ll move on.
Swing open the massive, translucent, dragon wing-inspired doors and you’ll see that the “vehicle-as-organism” theme extends to the cabin as well. Ignore the rear seats—those look to be useless and painful to sit in—and instead focus on the two reclined pods up front. Nestled between them is what Mercedes-Benz refers to as a biometric connection, and it’s how one controls the VISION AVTR.
When seen in person, or in video, it’s uncanny just how “alive” this connection is. It pulsates and breathes, and it’s the real-world analogue to the neural connection (or “tswin” in Na’vi) found across the fauna of Pandora’s moon. Mercedes-Benz claims that it is able to recognize its driver based on their heartbeat and breathing patterns, making it a very complex and incredibly intelligent smart key. It’s also the primary method of manual control for this vehicle, using joystick-like inputs to move the car in whatever direction its driver intends.
Further control functions come in the form of a menu that is projected only onto the palm of the driver’s hand. It sounds fantastical, but the tech is real and knows when the driver is holding up their palm—refusing to project onto the back of their hand, for example. Functionality is limited to selecting different fly-through views of Pandora on the VISION AVTR’s wrap-around dashboard-slash-screen, but it will be interesting to see if—and how—similar tech could be applied to the real world.
Like all environmentally minded concepts, the powertrain that Mercedes-Benz envisions for the VISION AVTR is nothing short of revolutionary. It’s an organic battery based on, to quote Mercedes-Benz, “graphene-based organic cell chemistry that is completely free of rare earths and metals. The materials of the battery are compostable and therefore completely recyclable.” In other words, much like the world of Pandora, this power cell is powered only by imagination. But for the luxury car maker, it also serves as a statement that sustainability and environmental responsibility are now core values for the brand.
As far as concepts go, the VISION AVTR is as out there as it gets, and is probably the wildest form of transport ever constructed. There’s a good chance that we’ll never see a car like this on the roads in our lifetimes, but we’re glad that such a traditionally staid brand has pushed creativity and imagination to the forefront.