If you’ve been contemplating the point of auto shows, wonder no more. BMW has decidedly quashed any glimmer of hope that the format might still be relevant by taking the wraps off of one of the most significant new concept cars to debut this century, the Vision Next 100, just one week after the first press conferences were held at the Geneva motor show in Switzerland.
The unveiling of the Vision Next 100 isn’t actually an f-bomb to the auto show world, though. It just happens to coincide with BMW’s 100th anniversary – March 7. The show car — created and unveiled to celebrate BMW’s centenary — is a precursor for the company’s future products and takes into account four key themes: driver focus, autonomy, artificial intelligence, new materials and emotion.
“Our objective with the BMW Vision Next 100 was to develop a future scenario that people would engage with,” says BMW Group head of design, Adrian van Hooydonk. “Technology is going to make significant advances, opening up fantastic new possibilities that will allow us to offer the driver even more assistance for an even more intense driving experience.”
The design process for the technical showpiece began with the interior: the main focus to design a vehicle that could be highly personalized and geared to meet the driver’s every need.
The design team took into account specific trends and technological developments that will be relevant to BMW in the future; trends such as urbanization, advancements in areas of additive manufacturing (3D printing) and sustainability. But they also took many cues from innovations and designs in the company’s past, particularly its focus on future technologies.
“We’d be stupid not to embrace these technologies,” says BMW design director Karim Habib, “But we have to do so in the proper way. To me this means [incorporating] features that assist the driver to make [them] a better driver.”
From the dawn of the driver centric cockpits created in the 1960s and 70s (later copied by numerous manufacturers the world over) BMWs have always focused on the driver. I vividly remember the tagline to all of BMW’s television commercials and print ads I saw as a kid: “The Ultimate Driving Machine”. So how does the company intend to tackle autonomy, the greatest current trend in the automotive industry?
BMW proposes that drivers will be able to let their cars do the driving when they want to. Sitting in a traffic jam? Let’s relax. Driving home after a hard day’s work? Kick your feet up and chill. Jetlagged? Catch up on some sleep. You get the idea.
But when the traffic clears and the weekend arrives, drivers can once again enjoy the open road behind the wheel of the quintessential driver’s car. But it’s not just an ordinary wheel. Looking much like the concept Nissan debuted at the Tokyo auto show late last year, the thin, rectangular steering wheel emerges from the driver’s side IP, giving the pilot full control.
Though the steering wheel’s shape doesn’t seem ideal, ‘Alive Geometry’ — a system consisting of nearly 800 moving triangles set into the instrument panel and into certain areas of the side panels — invariably is.
The system allows the car to communicate directly with the driver through geometric 3D gestures, which work in combination with a head-up display that projects signals and directional arrows onto the windscreen to warn drivers of potential obstacles such as careless bikers and inattentive pedestrians that cross in front of the car’s path without looking.
Alive Geometry also features on the exterior design as well. A glowing red color beneath a series of triangles that stretch and move over the wheel wells as the wheels are turned indicates the vehicle’s direction of travel to pedestrians and other road users.
Autonomous vs. Driving
The transition between autonomy and physical driving is an issue of contention at the moment. How will this transition take place? How can this process be streamlined and optimized? How can other road users be informed? These are all major questions daunting automakers.
The Vision Next 100 answers these questions by proposing two modes, Boost and Ease, which communicate with other road users. The trademark kidney grille, double headlights and L-shaped rear lights act as a communication tool. Their different colors of light indicate which mode the vehicle is in.
Another feature, which BMW has coined the ‘Companion’, plays an important role in driver-vehicle communications when the car transitions from Boost (driven) to Ease (autonomous) mode. Symbolized by a small sculptural element shaped like a large, cut gemstone in the center of the dashboard just beneath the windscreen, the Companion creates an interface with the windscreen. A light tells the driver that the car is ready for fully autonomous driving and signals that the car is operating in automated mode to other drivers. In certain driving situations the Companion is in visual contact with other road users, helping pedestrians to cross the road by means of the green light gradient on the front of the vehicle.
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