February 8, 2023

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The BMW I Vision Dee concept car changes color in a matter of seconds

BMW sees “huge potential” for such screen projection technology, well beyond the compact head-up displays that motorists have become accustomed to over the past two decades.

It would be easy to assume that stage five of the Dee system is intended for a fully autonomous vehicle in which passengers can switch off from the outside world and watch a movie or other streamed content. However, as an indication of BMW’s reluctance to use this concept, the i Vision Dee has no autonomous driving technology whatsoever.

Adrian van Hooydonk, Design Director of the BMW Group, says: “Augmented Reality is not only interesting, but also helpful for driver orientation. You can focus on the road ahead and the information you need appears to be projected onto the road. What we are showing in this Vision car is new technology that allows you to use the full width of the windscreen.”

common point of view

To state that it’s not vaporware, Van Hooydonk says that BMW is serious about building the kind of HUD display shown in the i Vision Dee concept. “We’re seeing a lot of benefits from getting your eyes back on the road,” he says, adding that the technology could replace traditional in-dash displays and see instrument clusters that are completely removed behind the steering wheel.

Courtesy of BMW

BMW says a production version of its new HUD technology will be used in cars from 2025. He refers to these as yet unannounced electric vehicles as his New Class.

Though impressive in its concept form, BMW’s take on the future of car HUDs isn’t unique. The Swiss technology company WayRay is also working on an advanced augmented reality interface for windshields. The company claims that no other existing HUD can match its 3D imagery showing vehicle speed and range, mapping and trajectory along the road ahead.

Other auto OEMs are also working in this space, with Mercedes adding navigation prompts to a live video feed from a front-facing camera, while both Audi and Ford are exploring ways to project driver information onto the road with LED headlights. Unveiled in August 2022, Ford’s system is geared towards nighttime driving, beaming warnings of speed limits, upcoming junctions and freezing weather onto the road.

A “friendly” digital companion

Advanced in-car assistants are also a hot topic. While some manufacturers prefer drivers to use Siri or Google Assistant through a connected smartphone, others are also going their own way. Nio, a Chinese electric car company with plans to expand in the US and Europe, has Nomi, a virtual assistant whose digital face is housed in a special dashboard display that faces the driver when spoken to.

BMW’s Dee Assistant doesn’t have a face, at least not in the US and Europe, but BMW says facial expressions could appear in the Chinese market, where demand for such technology is greater.

“We want to make a bigger statement that goes beyond speech recognition,” says van Hooydonk. “We want to say that your entire vehicle becomes a companion.” To that end, the concept, shown in Las Vegas this week, also uses e-ink displays in its headlights to convey emotion, potentially to pedestrians and others motorists or when spoken to by its owner. BMW claims that certain moods such as joy, wonder and approval can be expressed visually.

Courtesy of BMW

This so-called welcome scenario may also involve the car projecting an avatar of the driver onto the side window when it detects their presence, BMW says. It’s certainly a novel way of spotting your car among others in a busy parking lot and, of course, along with the headlights’ facial expressions, it reminds you of Cars’ Lightning McQueen.

Reductive design

The Dee concept itself is, at least in our eyes, wonderfully retro. It’s a three-box design that might have stood uncomfortably against the supposedly cutting-edge technology on display inside and out, but it works and is a design we’re hoping BMW will see as part of its New Class – Can turn cars into reality. From a company criticized for its awkward iX and challenging i7, the compact concept is a breath of fresh air.

Van Hooydonk says it’s a shape that came from years of assimilating the BMW design language into “the essential BMW elements”. “For this car we took it to another level and drastically reduced the number of elements because we wanted the focus to be on the digital aspects,” says van Hooydonk.