One of BMW’s classic body design themes is to put the wheels well towards the ends of the car. It gives what designers call a ‘strong stance’ – the car seems to be hugging the road. But the Vision Next 100’s bodywork is pulled down to cover the wheels, to reduce air turbulence and drag. Which is all very well in a straight line, but what happens when the front wheels need to steer? Step forward another innovation, called ‘Alive Geometry’.
Some 800 moving triangles are set into the car’s surfaces, mainly on the front wings and the instrument panel. By opening and closing, they enable the skin to change shape and contour. So it can stretch over the front wheels as they turn.
Inside the car, the same material covers the dashboard. As the triangles open, they reveal a lower layer coloured red. This is what BMW calls a ‘preconscious signalling device’ in the occupants’ peripheral vision. In Ease mode, the triangles subtly prepare the passengers if the car is about to brake or turn, moving in a Mexican wave across the dashboard. Passengers would brace themselves almost without thinking. Sounds like a worthwhile remedy for car sickness. In Boost mode, if a danger is coming up, a wave of red spreads across like a gesture towards the hazard.
BMW admits that something like Alive Geometry is still a long way from reality. To be produced, it would probably need what engineers call ‘4D printing’. In 3D printing the shape of an object is printed up to match a digital model, in a uniform material. For the fourth dimension, the printed piece would be made from multiple materials, giving scope for active, even intelligent, parts.
The car has very few physical controls. Instead, cameras read the position of your hand and fingers, so you can control the car’s features and menus by gestures – pinching and swiping in mid-air. Gesture control is already available on BMW’s 7-series saloon, although it has a limited vocabulary so far.