Unveiled to mark the 100th anniversary of BMW AG, the Vision Next 100 concept is an ambitious prediction of our motoring future. It suggests that driver discretion and connected, autonomous onboard driving systems are not incompatible.
Contrary to the predominant view of the future, when “cars will be no more than fully-automated taxis”, BMW believes that in 100 years’ time, drivers will still want to spend most of the time in their car behind the steering wheel. Indeed, the Vision Next 100 suggests the driver will remain the firm focus of motoring. What the car does, is utilise connectivity, digital intelligence and state-of-the-art technologies to turn its driver into “the Ultimate Driver”, the firm claims.
Interior design determines exterior shape
In designing the Vision Next 100, BMW’s starting point was the interior, because “rather than merely feeling they (the driver and passengers) are in a machine that drives itself, they should sense that they are sitting in one that was specifically designed for them”. This idea gave rise to an architecture in which the cab seems particularly spacious compared with the overall size of the vehicle.
The design of the BMW Vision Vehicle is characterised by a blend of coupé-type sportiness and the dynamic elegance of a sedan. At 4.90 metres long and 1.37 metres high, it has compact exterior dimensions. Inside, however, it has the dimensions of a luxury BMW sedan.
The large wheels are positioned at the outer edges of the body exterior and the extremely low drag coefficient of 0.18 is thanks to the fact that when the wheels swivel as the vehicle is steered, the bodywork keeps them covered as if it were a flexible skin, accommodating their various positions.
Alive Geometry is like a dynamic 3D sculpture
Alive Geometry consists of almost 800 moving triangles that are set into the instrument panel and certain areas of the concept’s exterior (that’s how the wheels can turn left and right even though they are enclosed). They work in three dimensions and their coordinated movements act as signals that "are easily comprehensible to those inside the car; they are more like gestures than the traditional two-dimensional depictions on a display".
This notion is underpinned by 4D printing, a process which adds another level to components: the functional one. In the years ahead, printed parts manufactured in this way will directly integrate functions that today have to be designed and produced separately before being incorporated.
Full-windscreen head-up display
In other words, the Vision Vehicle suggests there will at some point be no more interior displays at all. Instead, the entire windscreen will serve as a giant display, directly in front of the driver. “In the future the digital and physical worlds will merge considerably (as is also expressed through Alive Geometry, for example), in the way the analogue dashboard interacts with the digital head-up display in the front windscreen,” BMW adds.
The BMW head-up display can project a variety of functions, depending on the driving mode. When the driver’s at the wheel, it focuses exclusively on what really matters to the driver: information such as the ideal line, turning point and speed. In addition, full connectivity, intelligent sensors and permanent data exchange allow the head-up display to generate a digital image of the vehicle’s surroundings. When the Vision Next 100 operates in fully autonomous mode, the head-up display offers occupants personalised content along with the information and the entertainment they desire.
Boost and Ease driving modes
The design of the interior permits various modes of operation: Boost (driver) mode, in which the driver is at the controls, and Ease (automated) mode, in which the driver can sit back and let the vehicle take over.
In the case of the former, the entire vehicle focuses on the driver, offering intelligent support to maximise the driving experience. The seat and steering wheel positions change, and the centre console moves to become more strongly oriented toward the driver. As the journey proceeds, the driver can interact with the vehicle via gesture control and, to help the driver concentrate fully on the road, Alive Geometry can provide guidance and warnings of road hazards.
The transition to Ease mode brings about a complete change of interior ambience… “the vehicle becomes a place of retreat with plenty of space, agreeable lighting and a comfortable atmosphere,” BMW claims.
In Ease mode, the steering wheel and centre console retract and the headrests move to one side to create a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. The seats and door panels merge to form a single unit, allowing the driver and passengers to sit at a slight angle. What’s more, in Ease mode, Alive Geometry is more discreet in its movements, informing occupants about the road ahead and any acceleration and braking manoeuvres that are about to happen.
Companion: the Vision Next 100 learns from your behaviour
The concept is programmed to learn about its driver, thanks to its sensory and digital intelligence, which the BMW Group calls the Companion. Shaped like a large, cut gemstone and positioned in the centre of the dashboard just beneath the windscreen, the Companion represents the constant exchange of data. And, the more it learns about the owner and their mobility habits, the smarter it becomes. At some stage, it knows the driver well enough to automatically perform routine tasks for them and offer suitable advice when needed.
When the BMW Vision Next 100 takes control in Ease mode, the Companion rises up to create an interface with the windscreen. A signal light tells the driver that the car is ready for fully autonomous driving. For other road users, the Companion has a similar function, signalling through its own light as well as that of the vehicle that the car is operating in automated mode. In certain traffic 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.