Presented at CES in Las Vegas, the BMW i Vision Dee is also surprisingly compact. And while clearly from the future, instead of ticking all the usual concept-car boxes (a retractable steering wheel; autonomous driving in a mobile living room; flight aspirations), the Vision Dee takes existing technology in the form of a head-up display (HUD) and virtual assistant, it therefore aims to explore where they could go before the end of this decade.
Improved grayscale and black-to-white capabilities of BMW iX Flow concept shown a CES 2022, the new model ups the ante using 240 full-color e-ink panels, each with 32 color options. These are laser cut and applied to the body and wheels with a so-called ePaper film made by the US company E Ink.
The result is a car that can be, on any given day, any color you like or, if your artistic whims demand it, feature a segmented or graduated pattern that uses multiple colors simultaneously. And, like your Amazon Kindle’s screen, it only consumes power when it changes state (or in this case color). Once it has changed hue, no energy is needed.
Mixed reality windshield
Dee in i Vision Dee stands for Digital Emotional Experience, and is also the name of the car’s voice assistant. Having first experimented heavily with his own voice control system, then somehow inevitably switched to AlexaUndaunted BMW is now once again going its own way with voice technology (well, come to think of it, anyway.) The intention is for Dee to act like other voice assistants but also integrate tightly with a next-generation HUD capable of take up the entire windshield, not just the small patch of glass onto which today’s systems project.
Using what BMW calls a Mixed Reality Slider, the HUD can be adjusted by the driver from stage one, where it projects onto a shallow band that runs the full width of the lower windshield, to stage five, where the entire windshield is covered by a virtual world, obscuring the real exterior. In between these two extremes are modes for displaying driving information, communication system content, and augmented reality projections (showing, for example, a cyclist’s predicted path into the driver’s blind spot). As the driver cycles through these modes, a projected interface fills more of the windshield until the view is fully virtual.
BMW believes there is “huge potential” for such screen projection technology, far beyond the compact head-up displays drivers have become accustomed to over the past two decades.
It would be easy to assume that the fifth stage of the Dee system is intended for a fully autonomous vehicle, where passengers can switch off from the outside world and watch a movie or other streaming content. However, as an indication of BMW’s restrained approach to this concept, the Vision Dee does not feature any self-driving technology.
Adrian van Hooydonk, Head of Design at the BMW Group, says: “Augmented reality is not only interesting, but also useful for the driver’s orientation. You can focus on the road ahead and the information you need will seemingly be projected onto the road. What we’re showing in this Vision car is a new technology that allows the full width of the windshield to be used.
Eager to establish that it’s not vaporware, Van Hooydonk says BMW is seriously looking into building the type of HUD display shown in the i Vision Dee concept. “We see a lot of benefits because, again, your eyes are focused on the road,” he says, adding how the technology could replace traditional dashboard displays and see instrument clusters completely removed from behind the wheel.
BMW says a production version of its new HUD technology will be used in cars starting in 2025. It refers to these as-yet-unannounced EVs as its new class.
While impressive in its conceptual form, BMW’s vision for the future of automotive HUDs isn’t unique. Swiss technology company Way Ray he’s also working on an advanced augmented reality interface for the windshields. The company says no other existing HUD can match its 3D images, which show the vehicle’s speed and range, mapping and trajectory along the road ahead.
Other automotive OEMs are also working in this space, with Mercedes adding navigation cues to a live video feed from a forward-facing camera, while both Audi and Ford are investigating ways to project driver information onto the road using forward-facing headlights. LEDs. Revealed in August 2022Ford’s system is geared towards night driving, where warnings of speed limits, impending intersections and icy weather are beamed 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 via a connected smartphone, others are also going their separate ways. Nioa Chinese electric car company with plans to expand into the United States and Europe, has Namesa virtual assistant whose digital face is housed within a dedicated dashboard display that addresses the driver when spoken to.
BMW’s assistant Dee 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 greatest.
“We want to make a bigger statement that goes beyond speech recognition,” says van Hooydonk. “We mean your entire vehicle will become 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 other motorists, or when approached by its owner. BMW claims that certain moods such as joy, amazement and approval can be expressed visually.
This so-called welcome scenario may also include the car projecting a driver avatar onto the side window when it detects their presence, BMW says. It’s definitely a novel way of spotting your car among others in a busy car park, and coupled with the facial expressions of the headlights, you’ll obviously be reminded Lightning McQueen from Cars.
The very concept of Dee is, at least in our eyes, wonderfully retro. It’s a three-box design that could have sat awkwardly against the supposedly cutting-edge technology displayed inside and out, and yet it works, and it’s a design that we hope BMW can make a reality as part of its Neue Klasse cars. From a company criticized for being ungainly iX It is challenging i7the compact concept is a breath of fresh air.
Van Hooydonk says it’s a shape that was born from the reduction of years of BMW design language into “quintessential BMW elements.” “For this car we took it to another level and drastically reduced the amount of elements, because we wanted the digital aspects to be the center of attention,” says van Hooydonk.
Talk about a car that, while simple, is recognizably BMW thanks to its fresh take on the company’s kidney-shaped front grille, dual circular headlights and “Hofmeister’s Caprice”, where the rear side window is pinched to the C-pillar. Perhaps most shocking is how the i Vision Dee is not a 3-ton SUV or a high-flying crossover. It eschews those particular consumer requests and instead chooses what van Hooydonk says BMW is best known for: a compact sports sedan.
Inside, like many concept cars, the i Vision Dee has an interior that focuses on minimalism. There are no physical controls other than the steering wheel, as everything else is controlled by talking to Dee and adjusting the degree of augmented and virtual reality projected onto the windshield. BMW says a bare-bones cabin is good from a sustainability perspective, and while new concept projection technologies would no doubt be expensive in their infancy, an otherwise blank dashboard is cheaper to produce than one festooned with physical paintings.
Readers familiar with some of today’s automotive voice assistants might roll their eyes at Dee’s concept, but BMW is keeping a foot (or two inches, rather) firmly anchored in today’s reality. The i Vision Dee’s steering wheel features conventional touch controls for navigating the projected interface. Plus, instead of today’s touchscreens with multiple layers of distracting interfaces, BMW reassuringly says it’s taking a “hands on the wheel, eyes on the road” approach.
Oliver Zipse, President of the BMW Group, says: “With the BMW i Vision Dee, we are showing what is possible when hardware and software merge. In this way we are able to exploit the full potential of digitization to transform the car into an intelligent companion”.
As for when the next generation of HUD might hit production vehicles, van Hooydonk says, “There’s a timeline that’s actually quite steep…the timeline you have to imagine is roughly 2025. This is the starting point of Neue Klasse, our new generation of vehicles.That’s when we want to see something like this in scale production.