BMW I20 iX Flow E Ink

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), BMW, a longtime fixture of the event, showed off an array of new technologies that could soon find their way into production models like the brand’s current technological flagship, the iX. The first and most exciting of these was the BMW iX Flow featuring E Ink, which uses electrophoretic technology to change the exterior appearance of the all-electric SAV at the push of a button or the utterance of a voice command. Although it might sound and look like the stuff of fantasy, E Ink, a brand of electronic paper, has already proven itself in the world of consumer electronics in the form of e-reader tablets and similar devices.

Making E Ink work as a finish for a full-size vehicle like the iX was no small feat, as the technology had to be adapted to the form of a laser-cut exterior body wrap as opposed to being housed within the relatively calm environment found beneath a screen. In essence, the iX Flow featuring E ink is able to transition from black to white in mere moments by way of an electric charge which is only passed through the material when a color change has been initiated. The surface of the iX Flow wears millions of microcapsules each with a diameter roughly that of a human hair. The microcapsules contain white pigment that is negatively charged and black pigment that is positive charged, and when the appropriate current is passed through them, the color changes. No electricity is necessary to maintain a color once the transition has been completed, as energy is used only briefly when a charge is passed through the microcapsules.

BMW I20 iX Flow E Ink

The potential benefits of the color-changing nature of the iX Flow featuring E Ink are fascinating in their own right. Many of us have long since known that cars finished in dark colors like black attract and retain more heat as opposed to white, for example, which is able to reflect significantly more sunlight and the associated thermal energy. Such an advantage is of particular importance for electric vehicles like the iX, range for which can suffer when energy is used to control the climate within the cabin. In addition to yielding benefits in terms of efficiency, the color changing properties of the iX Flow also allow for previously unrealized levels of customization, individuality, and emotionalization, according to BMW. In other words, the iX Flow featuring E Ink has a finish that is ideal for a variety of moods and operating conditions, and it can be controlled using BMW’s new my modes system which allows a driver to tailor the atmosphere in the interior entirely to their personal mood and the driving experience they want.

“This gives the driver the freedom to express different facets of their personality or even their enjoyment of change outwardly, and to redefine this each time they sit into their car,” offered Stella Clarke, head of project for the BMW iX Flow featuring E Ink. “Similar to fashion or the status ads on social media channels, the vehicle then becomes an expression of different moods and circumstances in daily life.”

BMW Theatre Screen

BMW Theater Screen

Another innovative piece of technology BMW showed off at this year’s CES was the BMW theater screen. Essentially a wide-screen TV that drops down from the headliner, BMW’s new theater screen features Amazon Fire TV built in, and sources 4K content via 5G wireless connection. The screen itself measures 31 inches and features resolutions as high as 8K along with an aspect ratio of 32 by 9.

Conceived to take in-vehicle entertainment to another level of immersion, the theater screen is mounted on a pair of articulated rails and lowers from the headliner to the top of the backs of the front seats. The screen can be controlled either via a built-in touch interface or by way of integrated control surfaces located on the armrests of the rear doors. It also represents the first in-vehicle integration of Amazon Fire TV with support for 4K content, and works in conjunction with the aforementioned my modes system. When the theater screen is in use, my modes automatically extends the rear sunshades and dims ambient lighting for the rear occupants. To complete the immersive experience, an integrated Bowers & Wilkins Diamond surround sound system is responsible for delivering audio, while the screen itself can be seamlessly adjusted to be suitable for every possible position of the rear seats. When the my mode theater has been activated, and the screen extends downward from the headliner, an aural experience courtesy of renowned film music composer and Academy Award winner Hans Zimmer greets occupants.

“We develop immersive, digital experiences for sheer driving pleasure. In Theatre Mode, the rear of the interior is transformed into a private cinema lounge. With the 31 inch display, 5G connectivity, 8K resolution, surround sound and individual streaming program, an unprecedented experience is created that sets new standards for in-car entertainment,” said Frank Weber, the BMW board member responsible for overseeing development.

BMW Digital Art Mode

BMW Digital Art Mode

BMW also debuted its own digital art mode for the first time at CES. Digital art mode is also part of the aforementioned my modes, and the first exhibit, if you will, comes courtesy of Cao Fei, the Chinese multimedia artist responsible for creating the eighteenth BMW Art Car, an M6 GT3, back in 2017. The work is called Quantum Garden, and it’s displayed on the curved display that is a hallmark of BMW iDrive 8.

“For the very first time, we are making digital art an integral part of the modern driving experience in a car and use innovative technology to transform mobility into an individual, highly exclusive and emotional experience,” explained Christoph Grote, senior vice president, digital car, at the BMW Group.

With the unveiling of BMW’s digital art mode, BMW is the first automaker to bring digital art into vehicles, and depending on the driving situation or the mood of the driver, an immersive user experience can be enjoyed which includes synchronization of the drive control system, steering, ambient lighting, sound, and color.

Artist Cao Fei describes Quantum Garden as, “a poetic collection of universes, countless atoms, nebulae, and thousands of fast-moving beams of light from the depths of the universe, and those trailing strings of galaxies, growing larger and smaller, intersecting and extending, combining and separating, perceiving and listening to each other, around a myriad of constantly rotating centers. In a multidimensional universe, the trajectory is non-linear, the journey has no end, only the freedom to switch between the micro and macro worlds, to wander, to explore, and to evolve.”

Whether or not any of these features and technologies make it into a production BMW model remains to be seen, but they’re nonetheless interesting, and serve as shining examples of the forward thinking that BMW has become known for.—Alex Tock

[Photos and video courtesy BMW AG.]

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