It all began in 2016. Two Mercedes-Benz engineers from different business units were challenged with one extremely fascinating project: making a design vision reality. What followed were five years of passion and intensive teamwork with a development partner and its suppliers, until the MBUX Hyperscreen finally entered series production in the new Mercedes-Benz EQS.
Turning a vision into reality – as an employee of an innovative automotive group, this is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating and challenging tasks. That was exactly the order given to development engineer Matthias Pohl and his colleague Robert Haidenthaler, quality engineer in Purchasing, in 2016. From one day to the next, the duo from two completely different divisions became responsible for a very special project: preparing the series production of the so-called MBUX Hyperscreen for the new all-electric EQS luxury sedan. The MBUX Hyperscreen was to serve as an example of the symbiosis of digital and analogue design. “The starting point was the vision, which at first I couldn’t believe,” says Haidenthaler, thinking back on the kick-off. “When things got more concrete and I saw the first A-sample as a prototype, I really became aware of this project’s dimension and scope. It’s impressive just how much courage and determination our company shows.”
Cut. Five years later. Several displays merge almost seamlessly into one another, forming a uniform band of screens under a common glass cover. As a link between the digital and the physical worlds, analogue air vents are embedded in the large surface of the MBUX Hyperscreen. Mission accomplished: the vision is reality. Gorden Wagener, Chief Design Officer Daimler Group, described it in this way at the world premiere of the Hyperscreen at the electronics trade fair CES in Las Vegas in early 2021: “With our MBUX Hyperscreen, a design vision becomes reality. We merge technology with design in a fascinating way that offers the customer unprecedented ease of use.”
Question of technical feasibility
But how did this come about? Let’s go back to the beginning: the road to this unprecedented ease of use began in 2016, with what we might call a question of fate. Is it even technically possible to integrate a single, continuous touchscreen into a vehicle cockpit instead of a classic dashboard with instrument cluster and multiple control switches? The answer is both yes and no. With the state of the art at that time, a display from the left to the right roof pillar wasn’t feasible - even today’s 77” OLED TVs are based on a slightly different technology. Moreover, availability of the necessary manufacturing technology for the ‘optical bonding’ of such a large display on a curved, automotive-compatible glass cover couldn’t be ensured within the project time frame.
But what was already feasible in 2016 was a single, slightly curved glass surface without transitions - in other words, a smooth design without seams, transitions or joints. Three high-resolution displays can be placed behind it: an LCD instrument cluster (12.3 inches) behind the steering wheel and two OLED displays - one in the centre (17.7 inches) and one for the front passenger (12.3 inches).
With OLED technology, the individual pixels are self-illuminating, therefore offering high colour brilliance. Image pixels that are not controlled stay switched off, taking on a deep black appearance. The challenge was to make the borders of the three displays and the dark areas in between look uniform, from different angles and under all conceivable lighting conditions, so that everything appears as if it were cast from a single mould.
Search for an innovative partner
In order to work out the best solution, meetings were held with several potential development partners. The search for the strategic partner for this complex technical assignment led to a highly innovative South Korean electronics group: LG Electronics. “We laid the foundation for the cooperation in 2016,” says Robert Haidenthaler. An initial agreement was reached with the future series supplier and manufacturer of the MBUX Hyperscreen at a management meeting in Seoul. Everything took place under strict secrecy, especially the Hyperscreen’s innovative shape.
The high-tech part didn’t yet go by that name back then. “Sometimes it was called ‘Glass Eagle’ because of its shape, sometimes ‘Powerwall,’” Matthias Pohl reveals. For the developer, the secret Hyperscreen project began in Böblingen with a workshop on display concepts. Several divisions were involved: Design, Display, Light, Interior, Cockpit, Purchasing, Quality, and on and on. Plus LG Electronics experts from South Korea. The workshop saw presentations on current display, lighting, and decorative part technologies, and discussions about the Hyperscreen’s technical implementation and suitability for series production. After that, a new phase of work began for Matthias Pohl: “I worked intensively on the specifications for six months, in close exchange with LG Electronics and internally with the departments involved.”
- Width: 141 cm
- Weight: 7.3 kg
- LCD Instrument Cluster Display: 12.3 inches
- OLED central display: 17.7 inches
- OLED passenger display: 12.3 inches
- Material mix: Glass, plastic, aluminium, magnesium, glue, lacquer, as well as special materials for the three displays
- More than 3,000 individual parts
- Location of assembly into the EQS: Factory 56, Sindelfingen, Germany
It’s worth taking a closer look
The technology behind the glass is one thing, the glass itself another: the large glass cover is bent three-dimensionally at temperatures of around 650°C. The so-called mould process avoids visible mould seams, allowing for an undistorted view of the display unit across the entire width of the vehicle. The special glass selected for the Hyperscreen is painstakingly processed by a glass refiner. “To achieve the desired overall impression with as little reflection as possible, the glass cover is metallised with six different metal oxides,” Matthias Pohl describes.
A continuous plastic front frame encloses the glass of the Hyperscreen. Its visible section is painted in the colour ‘Silver Shadow’ in an elaborate three-coat process. Through an extremely thin intermediate layer, this paint system achieves a particularly high-quality surface and results in a metallic sheen that gives the glass surface a harmonious finish.
During the production process, almost one hundred different criteria are checked for compliance with the respective specified tolerances. The quality not only has to match with the direct supplier who assembles all the components into the Hyperscreen: Cooperation with the display manufacturers and their suppliers is also crucial. Experts like to call this ‘sophisticated supply chain management’.
Beautiful and safe
In addition to appearance, the engineers naturally focused on the inner values, especially in terms of safety. Electronics in a car must function in a much wider temperature range than on the sofa at home: from -40 to +85 degrees Celsius. This is also true when the EQS has been left in the sun for several hours. These harsh conditions were extensively tested during the Hyperscreen’s development phase, in so-called climate chambers at the Sindelfingen location. Apart from heat and cold, the enormous acceleration forces of a moving car also play an important role in safety. “The Hyperscreen is connected directly to the cockpit crossbeam with five brackets,” Matthias Pohl explains. “Not just normal brackets, but with special brackets that can specifically collapse in a crash, due to their honeycomb structure.” Other safety measures include predetermined breaking features next to the side air outlets.
Foreign assignments as a door opener
Quality engineer Robert Haidenthaler divides the almost five-year project into two halves: “Before the coronavirus pandemic we frequently travelled to Asia, very often to the development location near Seoul at the beginning, and later to sub-suppliers in Japan, China, Korea, and Vietnam, and then to the later manufacturing plant near Ha Long Bay.” These intensive on-site activities in the first three years would pay off after the outbreak of the pandemic: after their last business trip in February 2020, only digital alternatives remained for exchange with the supplier. Direct access to the developers in South Korea suddenly disappeared. “It’s important in South Korean business culture to have dinner together after a hard day’s work,” Matthias Pohl reports. “In an informal atmosphere, local food and drinks are served and topics that often aren’t easy to discuss during the day get brought to the table.” Robert Haidenthaler appreciates the business trips for more than just the exchange with the South Korean experts: “The intensive cooperation and many assignments abroad helped develop a great friendship between Matthias and me.”
Together for success
This close connection helped the two colleagues in their assignment. “It’s not rare for the Development and Purchasing divisions to be at odds with each other in terms of argumentation, but with us it was different,” says Pohl, dispelling a widespread preconception. “We worked together in tandem, in a spirit of trust, from the very beginning.” Their recipe for success? Talking to each other. Robert Haidenthaler puts it like this: “You don’t get a great component like this from just keeping your mouth shut.” Even though their internal discussions were often long and contentious, externally they always spoke to the supplier with one voice. This approach paid off throughout the development process: all maturity targets were met on schedule.
MBUX Hyperscreen in the new EQS
Another cut. What we still don’t know is how the idea for the Hyperscreen actually came about. The introduction of MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) in the current A-Class has radically changed the way a Mercedes-Benz is operated. Since then, almost four million Mercedes-Benz passenger cars have taken to the road with it worldwide – while the van sector, too, relies on MBUX. The second generation of the adaptive system was launched with the new S-Class, with the next logical step to follow with the all-electric EQS luxury sedan and the MBUX Hyperscreen developed for it.
Look in the rear view mirror
As far back as 1996, Mercedes-Benz showed what a continuous screen across the entire width of the cockpit might one day look like at the Paris Motor Show. The Mercedes-Benz F 200 Imagination concept car presented not only a new ergonomic concept based on drive-by-wire technology, but also a completely new cockpit design with multiple screens behind one shared glass cover.
That’s also when in-car internet was announced, as the following paragraph of a press release reveals: “‘In-car entertainment’ is the buzzword used for radio, cassette player, CD player and car phone. [...] In addition, there are more and more navigation systems. Even fully internet-enabled electronics systems for the car already exist, at least in research labs.”
Today, 25 years later, cassettes, CDs and the classic car phone have long since disappeared from vehicles. Cars in 2021 are constantly online and networked with other road users and local infrastructure via car-to-x communication. User-friendly operating systems such as the ground-breaking MBUX from Mercedes-Benz are on board will become daily companions; the MBUX Hyperscreen is revolutionising the connection between human and car. These kinds of high-resolution screens, VR-enabled head-up displays, intelligent voice control, as well as numerous sensors are making driving increasingly convenient and safe – and the next vision is already in sight: autonomous and accident-free driving.