By Jody McCutcheon
Shape shifting, integrative technology, onboard luxury—these are some of the ideas steering BMW toward the future. Oh, and there’s a steering wheel that retracts into the dashboard.
BMW’s Vision Next 100 concept car isn’t really a radical departure from today’s automobiles – but it kind of is. First off, it’s not and likely won’t be a production car; rather, it’s meant to honour the company’s centennial anniversary, and suggest what vehicles might look like in the near future once autonomous driving is less an eyebrow-raising gimmick and more a standard technology. And it hints at the definite goal of creating a very personal—and personalized—vehicle, one that enhances the connection between car and driver.
From the outside, the Vision Next 100 is a copper-coloured, compact sedan with scissor-wing doors and wheels encased in strange, skin-like wheel wells. The shape-shifting comes from something called “Alive Geometry,” which consists of 800 tiny, scale-like triangles covering the exterior that move in tandem to optimize aerodynamics. Even the wheel wells telescope out, moving in synch with the wheels as the car turns.
Inside, the Vision Next 100 boasts a sporting luxury interior with plenty of personalized touches. First, the shape-shifting continues inside, as Alive Geometry covers the dashboard. There, the triangles open up and reveal red flipsides to warn the driver of potential hazards, including hidden ones, such as a cyclist obscured by a larger vehicle, projecting the hidden hazard onto the windshield. Generally, the red triangles suggest optimal driving lines to direct the driver through road hazards.
Another feature is the Head-Up Display, which provides the driver with signals and directional arrows on the windshield. Closely related is the AI-like “Companion.” Connected to calendars, social networks and news channels, the Companion basically collects information to learn the driver’s habits and preferences and help facilitate driving performance. Its intelligence even allows it to suggest places like landmarks and other points of interest to visit on route and whether the driver has time to stop for coffee before the next appointment. Essentially the Companion narrows the gap between man and machine.
The Vision Next 100 offers two driving modes: Boost, in which the driver controls the car, and Ease, in which the Companion assumes control and the car drives itself. In Boost mode, the steering wheel and seat shift and the centre console angles toward the driver, who interacts with the car via gestures. In Ease Mode, the steering wheel and centre console retract into the dash, the seats rotate so passengers can face each other, and the Head-Up Display offers entertainment for passengers’ viewing pleasure.
All that’s left to be addressed is how the car is powered, which BMW fails to mention. The guessing here is that the BMW Vision Next 100 is electric, simply because a gas-powered vehicle would defeat the purpose, really, of anticipating the next stage of automobile travel.
With self-driving cars inevitable, the future offers little hope for those bent on driving. But if the driver can’t drive, at least she can be surrounded by luxury and protected by intelligence. Once again, BMW is driving you safely and creatively forward.