At CES a year ago, BMW’s iX Flow concept was billed as “the world’s first color-changing car.” At the time, the special version of the iX electric crossover could shift its various panels between white, black, and gray.
Now, for 2023, meet the upgrade: actual colors.
Now, for 2023, meet the upgrade: actual colors
For this year’s CES, BMW showed off the i Vision Dee, an electric sports sedan concept that previewed a whole raft of technologies we could see in the immediate future, like AI-powered virtual assistants and full-windshield heads-up displays. But it also included a full-color version of the E Ink technology seen on last year’s concept for the first time ever.
This means that the i Vision Dee — which looks like a kind of cross between a vintage BMW and a Tesla — can change colors on command. Instead of just black, white, and gray, 32 colors are now available. Not only that but the i Vision Dee is made up of 240 E Ink e-paper segments, all of which can be controlled individually. This means the i Vision Dee can shift to one solid color or put on one hell of a light show.
“This allows an almost infinite variety of patterns to be generated and varied within seconds,” BMW said in a statement.
Dee made her color-shifting debut during BMW’s CES keynote Wednesday night, joined onstage by Knight Rider’s KITT, Herbie the Love Bug, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. (You kind of had to be there.) Schwarzenegger also starred in this short film that demonstrates how Dee’s advanced features work:
BMW’s concepts make use of technology developed by the US-based E Ink Corporation, which is behind e-readers and various smartwatches. A film coating on the car contains tiny microcapsules whose pigments change when electricity is applied. While E Ink has seen a number of applications over the years, BMW says it’s unique to the automotive sector, developed and programmed by in-house engineers.
A film coating on the car contains tiny microcapsules whose pigments change when electricity is applied
What’s more, this concept uses the latest tech from E Ink, called Prism 3 film, which is fully programmable and meant to be low on power consumption for sustainability. Prism 3 can also be manufactured in any shape, making industrial design applications seemingly endless.
“E Ink’s display technology is ultra-low power because it is bistable,” E Ink said in a news release. “Paired with digital paper’s industry-leading energy efficiency, E Ink is enabling its partners to disrupt industries through sustainable technologies and has been integrated into everything from eReaders to cell phones to medical wearables to logistical tags and digital signage.”
The e-paper segments were also used on the concept’s wheels and grille, with the latter creating “facial expressions” as its AI assistant reacts to various inputs.
Will color-shifting BMWs ever see production? For now, it’s an in-house R&D project — but one that has attracted a lot of attention both inside the automaker and in the wider world. SlashGear notes that the brains behind the project, Australian engineer Stella Clarke and her team, have been working to develop and refine the e-paper since last year’s CES.
Right now, they’re working on making the e-paper panels tougher and able to stand up to things like flying insects and car washes. As it stands now, de rigueur road damage renders panels nonfunctional, as is the case on the black-and-white iX Flow. The team’s ultimate goal is to make a spray that can be applied to body panels more easily, but that’s a ways off. The costs are also unclear, although Clarke intimated they could be lower than you might think.
Who knows. If BMW can go from black and white to dazzling rainbow displays in just a year, maybe E Ink could be the next must-have option for anyone wanting to really show off in their M3.