BMW’s virtual view of the ultra-futuristic cabin for its Vision iNext concept provides a preview of the German automaker’s plans for an autonomous vehicle future.
As the inspiration for BMW’s future electric, autonomous lineup, the Vision iNext resembles a living room on wheels with an always-on virtual personal assistant. The Munich-based automaker will launch a production version of the all-electric midsize crossover in 2021.
The iNext will be one of more than two dozen hybrid and electric vehicles BMW plans to offer by 2025. Though it will reach showrooms a year or two behind the Mercedes-Benz EQC and Audi e-Tron, the first electric vehicles from BMW’s German rivals, the iNext affords the automaker a head start in working with advanced self-driving systems.
BMW recently offered a simulated drive through a megacity in 2025 using VR goggles to show what it is like to both drive the iNext and use it in autonomous mode. When in autonomous mode, the cabin draws from multiple features to allow for sleeping, working and socializing.
“We designed the car from the inside to the outside,” said Holger Hampf, president of BMW Group Designworks, the company’s design studio. “Most show cars from this point have been designed primarily with the exterior in mind.”
‘A digital character’
A concept version of BMW’s Intelligent Personal Assistant, which debuts in the new BMW 3-Series compact sedan this year, gets turbocharged capabilities in the Vision iNext, learning passengers’ calendars, routines and habits to plan users’ daily schedules and battery-charging stops. The windshield serves as an augmented-reality screen that displays relevant data.
“It’s not a voice interface. It’s a digital character. It learns more and more about what you like and don’t like,” said Dieter May, BMW Group’s senior vice president of digital products.
BMW is partnering with Amazon, Microsoft, Alibaba and others to develop the technology featured in the iNext production model. The crossover will come equipped with a new version of that digital assistant that integrates Office 365 and possibly entertainment options from Amazon, according to May.
“The opportunities, I think, are pretty much endless,” he said.
The Vision iNext’s “Executive” mode transforms the cockpit into a mobile office, converting the windshield into a videoconference display and allowing participants to share and view documents.
The virtual personal assistant also helps the driver make a drone-delivered purchase and opens the front door of the user’s home remotely to allow friends inside.
Displaying utility vehicle-like proportions and crisp, precise lines, the Vison iNext measures roughly the same size as BMW’s X5 midsize crossover. Its large windshield and panoramic glass roof “make the entire car appear lighter in its volume,” Hampf said.
Designers conceived the concept as a respite providing privacy, comfort and control in a hectic world, according to Hampf.
“We found that people are yearning for privacy, they’re yearning for comfort, they’re yearning for control over their environment, and this is what we brought together in the Vision iNext,” he said.
That’s why most of the vehicle’s technology and functionality remain camouflaged until needed. Door handles lie dormant within the sheet metal until they pop out to greet the driver upon approach.
The interior lacks switches and buttons, instead featuring what the automaker calls “shy technology” embedded into the surface materials and upholstery. For instance, the wooden center console, designed to resemble a coffee table, is touch sensitive. Instead of leather, the rear, couch-like bench seat uses “smart,” handwoven jacquard cloth upholstery that can control the infotainment system when passengers use their fingers to draw symbols on the fabric.
The living room-like space was inspired by boutique hotels. The division between hardwood flooring in the front of the cabin and carpet in the rear is designed to create the illusion of separate rooms in a spacious apartment. The thin, free-floating display screen at the helm resembles a television, while the backseat features an asymmetric bench seat that blends into the front and side panels.
“People can snuggle into a corner like an armchair in your home,” said Hampf.