by Jerry ElengicalMay 04, 2021
During the ongoing CES 2022 event in Las Vegas, USA, Germany-based luxury vehicle manufacturer BMW unveiled its latest cutting edge innovation - a car that can switch colours on the fly. Made possible by E Ink technology, the BMW iX Flow represents a new dawn for personalisation in the realm of automobile design. Users may now be able to customise vehicle exteriors with minimal hassle at the touch of a button, when prompted by aesthetic preferences, environmental conditions, or a host of other functional purposes. Alongside their reveal of the new Digital Art Mode under the 'My Modes' feature - which will allow drivers to alter their car’s interior design with artwork by Chinese multimedia artist Cao Fei - BMW’s showcase at CES 2022 so far has taken the world by storm.
Building on the impressive achievements of the BMW iX, which was among the first of a new generation of fully electric vehicles developed by the Munich-based automotive company, the iX Flow subtly hints at the blurring lines between digitisation and reality today. Along this theme, Frank Weber, Member of the Board of Management of BMW AG, Development, shares in a press statement: "Digital experiences won't just be limited to displays in the future. There will be more and more melding of the real and virtual. With the BMW iX Flow, we are bringing the car body to life."
The iX Flow’s chameleon-like nature is the result of a body wrap fitted to its contours. By making use of electrophoretic colouring (developed by E Ink for use in e-reader displays), different colour pigments are brought to the fore of the vehicle’s exterior, in a process that almost mimics iridescence. For this purpose, millions of microcapsules as wide as a human hair have been embedded into the surface coating, with positively charged black pigments and negatively charged white counterparts to implement the chromatic shift. When stimulated by an electric field, the surface of each microcapsule is flooded by one of the pigments as per the given setting, to impart colour to the body - much like an electronic paper display (EPD).
Innumerable precisely-fitted e-paper segments are responsible for this process, crafted using generative design methods and algorithms that ensure each section conforms perfectly to the lines of the vehicle while reflecting fluctuations in light and shadow across its contours. This method ensures proper colour rendering with each change. Laser cutting technology was utilised in the fabrication of the segments, which are applied to the body, connected to a power supply, and then heated and sealed. This is done to guarantee that the segments adhere to the car's exterior properly and reproduce the necessary colour accurately when required. The BMW Group is currently driving the advancement of this technology to allow for new types of interior and exterior customisation in future production models.
More often than not, the colour of a vehicle reflects the external demeanour of its owner in certain respects. To this end, vehicle manufacturers annually release multiple colour options of each model in their inventory to more accurately cater to broader sections of their customer bases. In this climate, the introduction of the BMW iX Flow’s E Ink technology could potentially do away with such variations in car models in the near future. A user’s changing desire to make their car look eye-catching, expressive, elegant, or sporty, need not go unaddressed any longer. “Similar to fashion or status ads on social media channels, the vehicle then becomes an expression of different moods and circumstances in daily life," mentions Stella Clarke, Head of Project for the BMW iX Flow, in an official statement.
Besides their cosmetic functions, colour change capabilities could contribute to greater energy efficiency by regulating the amount of heat absorbed by a vehicle's body surface in different climatic conditions. This could also aid in maintaining thermal comfort within the vehicle’s interior and limit energy consumption from air conditioning, creating a better all-round experience for users. In the case of electric vehicles, the proposition becomes even more pertinent when considering the potential to extend range limits through more energy conscious operational strategies. E Ink itself is said to be highly energy efficient and sustainable, as it only requires energy to stimulate the change in colour and not to maintain it.
Of late, BMW has been adeptly cementing its place at the vanguard of innovation in electric mobility, with releases such as the Motorrad Definition CE 04 scooter, BMWi’s Electrified Wingsuit, and the recent debut of the BMW iX M60, which can accelerate from 0-100 km/h in only 3.8 seconds while possessing an electronically limited top speed of 250 km/h and a maximum range of 566 kilometres per charge. Through this latest game changing advancement seen in the iX Flow featuring E Ink, the company could likely herald a future where a vehicle’s external and internal appearance are fluid and flexible rather than constrained by the current limits of industrial design and manufacturing.