Almost a month ago, BMW teased a “color-changing car” for CES. Today, we got to see that car: it’s an iX with a wrap that can go from black to white, partially or completely. Black and white are not colors, as an elementary school art teacher will tell you, but rather shades, so I’d say BMW didn’t quite deliver what it promised here. That’s not to say the result isn’t neat, though.
Look closely at the body of this concept — the BMW iX Flow — and you’ll see thousands of little lines arranged in triangular forms. These lines are microcapsules that can be electrically stimulated to change pigment. The wrap is effectively a giant E-Ink display, the same tech that powers many e-readers. BMW explains:
Achieving this effect on a vehicle body involves the application of many precisely fitted ePaper segments. Generative design processes are implemented to ensure the segments reflect the characteristic contours of the vehicle and the resulting variations in light and shadow. The generative design algorithms enable the necessary formability and flexibility required to tailor the ePaper exactly to the design lines of the vehicle.
The wrap has an unusual satin-like finish to it, with prominent cuts for shut lines that sort of make the car look like papercraft in still images. Watching it change, the triangular segments gradually brighten and darken like a wave cycling through the body. It’s a cool effect, but what makes it especially neat is that it can be selectively applied to specific clusters of segments. That’s how black pinstripes form down the hood in the GIF above, while the rest of the hood stays white.
As it happens, such technology is actually very sensitive to heat. So BMW has to keep the car warm to regulate temperature, so that the color is uniform.
Laser cutting technologies guarantee high precision in generating each segment. After the segments are applied and the power supply for stimulating the electrical field is connected, the entire body is warmed and sealed to guarantee optimum and uniform colour reproduction during every colour change.
A tweet from a user on the ground in Las Vegas said that BMW actually has two iX Flows at the convention in case one becomes too hot or cold to work properly. That should tell you how not production-feasible wrapping an entire car in digital paper is at the moment. Maybe if BMW keeps working on it, it can one day overcome the temperature issue — and throw a pop of actual color in there. Color E-Ink readers actually do exist, but they don’t look all that great.