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In a preview of design concepts that may be integrated into its future vehicles, BMW unveiled a radical concept car, the Vision Next 100, at its Munich headquarters this week.
The four-seat electric, roughly the size of a BMW 5 Series, carries the barest glimmer of traditional BMW styling but is at least recognizable as a BMW; rival Mercedes-Benz’s even more radical F-105 Concept, with which the Vision Next shares some functional similarities, can be identified as a Mercedes only by the three-point star on the grill.
Constructed entirely of carbon fiber and composites, the Vision Next is sheathed in 3D-printed flexible skin that can morph as driving conditions change to optimize aerodynamics and safety–as the front wheels turn, the sheathing’s articulated skin stretches to uncover the wheels then snaps back when the turn is complete.
In the interior, hundreds of triangles covering the dash and other surfaces — “Alive Geometry” in BMW parlance — process data gathered by the car’s optics and pop up to alert the driver to changing road conditions, oncoming traffic and other hazards. A heads-up display comprising the entire windshield uses aircraft-style visual aids —such as overlaying the contours of the road ahead when visibility is compromised.
Two driving modes are offered. In Boost, the car is under control of the driver, with semi-autonomous backups such active cruise control and lane keeping seen in today’s vehicles. In Ease the Vision Next shifts to full autonomous mode — the airliner-style steering yoke retracts into the dash and the entire cabin remakes itself into something resembling a Singapore Airlines first-class compartment. Meanwhile, a slightly eerie jewel-like device dubbed Companion monitors the car’s operations and driver’s preferences as well as issuing warnings to pedestrians.
Whether or not any of these concepts will make it into future BMWs, the company has been one of the most aggressive of the luxury carmakers to future-proof its vehicles, starting an entire division from scratch dedicated to designing and manufacturing eco-friendly electric cars, the i3 city car and the plug-in hybrid i8 supercar.
BMW recently confirmed it will build the i5, a mid-size electric car with a small gasoline engine to extend the car’s range, to expand its range of electrics.
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