Throughout the past century, the public has sought to predict what the ‘car of the future’ would entail. And, with the release of the VISION AVTR, a new concept car from Mercedes-Benz, any past predictions have been completely surpassed. This show vehicle was developed in tandem with the upcoming sequel to the 2009 film Avatar, hence the name, which also stands for Advanced Vehicle Transformation. This vehicle was formulated through a collaboration of engineers, Mercedes-Benz designers, and trend researchers to determine a vision modeling a futuristic mode of transportation.

The VISION AVTR exhibited at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas earlier in January. Usually, the futuristic technology on concept or test vehicles is non-functional, but a significant portion of the VISION AVTR’s technology is. The vehicle has been in development for two years, and videos of the vehicle on display at CES and in test drives demonstrate its abilities.      

Perhaps the most important feature of the VISION AVTR is the fact that it is completely emission-free. This vehicle possesses four high-power electric motors and sets a new benchmark for EQ power  an endeavor to produce vehicles with more power and less energy consumption. The VISION AVTR further strives for sustainability with the implementation of a battery that completely eliminates toxic and expensive materials such as certain precious metals, rendering the battery fully compostable. Ventures in sustainable/compostable technology are important steps away from the current linear economic trend that exhausts natural resources. With the development of this sustainable concept car, Mercedes-Benz is taking steps towards making a cyclical economy, where waste is phased out of the system, a reality. 

The car possesses a number of distinctive and innovative attributes. The battery can fully recharge in less than 15 minutes, and the vehicle is decorated in color-changing fabric that guarantees environmental sustainability throughout the entire production. Additionally, due to the ability to operate the front and rear axles simultaneously, the VISION AVTR can move sideways by approximately 30 degrees in a “crab-like” fashion. 

However, the most astonishing aspect of this concept vehicle is the VISION AVTR theoretically enables drivers to operate some of the car’s features with their mind. The VISION AVTR exemplifies intuitive control through advanced sensory technology that allows for the transmission and reception of information, from human to vehicle. By placing a hand on the center console, the car interior responds and the vehicle recognizes the driver by their breathing. There is also a visual connection established between the vehicle and the passenger through the display module which exhibits the surrounding area in 3D graphics with extraneous visual features such as magnetic fields and ultraviolet light.

In some ways, the intuitive control and mind-operating features are similar to the Alternative Communication technology available to individuals with ALS and other paralysis challenges. Stephen Hawking brought such technology to notoriety with eye tracking, blinking, and cheek flex sensors that allowed him to interact directly with the computer to transmit his intentions and thoughts without speech or use of his hands. More commercial ventures like Google Glass represent other strides toward merging man and machine. AVTR is another step in that journey, exploring more applicability of user control of machines and putting innovation on display. 

While the general consensus from the public is amazement at the detail and design of the vehicle, there is apprehension over whether the AVTR will be built as a production car. Mercedes futurist Alexander Mankowsky admitted in a statement that the AVTR will “probably never be built” as a production car, but its technology is “a signpost for a livable future.”

Indeed, often test models and concept technology is an essential stepping stone to other innovation. If the AVTR never reaches the roadway, it’s progeny will, and the value created from dreaming big now will pay off when components being tested now are integrated into more and more vehicles. And over time, such innovation compounds, as others see potential for new ways to utilize the technology originally intended for one purpose or add a process or product that makes the previous vision attainable.

While some aspects of this highly-advanced concept vehicle seem impractical, if not chimerical, the most important facets of the VISION AVTR are its sustainable and environmentally-conscious features. With the production of the VISION AVTR, Mercedes-Benz illustrates how an automobile can establish a symbiotic relationship with humanity and the environment, an unprecedented and laudable feat.

Written by Blair Hassett, Public Policy Intern


The Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (Aii) is an independent, national research and educational organization. An innovative think tank, Aii explores the intersection of economics, law, and public policy in the areas of climate, damage prevention, energy, infrastructure, innovation, technology, and transportation.