Ever upgrade your computer with new system software? Has it always worked perfectly, every time? Didn't think so. Would you like that same experience brought to your car — only with the added nervousness that comes from having it do it automatically without your input? You're in luck if you buy a new Mercedes-Benz!
Without much fanfare, Mercedes-Benz mentioned that as part of their mbrace2 (like a hug?) technology, in addition to the usual concierge and infotainment in-car systems, the German mothership can remotely update your car's system software:
And because it connects the car and the "cloud", the system can be upgraded whenever new software and applications become available.
At first glance, this seems like a good idea. Many cars now require owners to use USB thumb drives to upgrade their system software, in a somewhat clunky and lengthy process. The new Benz system could do this seamlessly, without the owner even having to be involved. But, after years of doing upgrades on Windows and Mac systems to find that afterwards wifi or Bluetooth or some piece of software no longer works, I have a policy now never to upgrade system software if I'm in the middle of a project. In fact, I usually like to wait until a weekend, just to be sure. This little bit of prudence has saved me lots of trouble.
So much of modern cars are fly-by-wire now, a car's OS upgrade can affect pretty much everything, not just infotainment and nav systems. A bug in one of the millions of lines of code could affect remote entry or fuel delivery or braking or throttle response or any number of things. And, while I'm sure Benz hires fine coders, bugs happen — that's partially why they want to do this in the first place.
Plus, there's the threat of hacking or malware. It may seem remote, until you think back and realize every major platform, in all spaces –– Windows, Mac OS, iOS, XBox 360, Playstation 3, Android, and more –– have all been hacked or had malware issues to some degree.
It's crappy to have your game system hacked, but it would be arguably much worse if you and your family sat on that game system at 70 mph on a highway.
The big difference is pretty much all platforms let you choose to download an upgrade or not. The description of the Benz system does not seem to suggest that's part of the plan, and it should be. On a trip in the middle of nowhere, I'm more likely to stick with what I know works and save some slightly better sub-smartphone in-dash web browsing feature for later.
These new systems are, and should be, coming, and I'm no luddite (despite driving cars old enough to run for President), but in some ways, Mercedes-Benz may have just given us a new way for cars to crash.