BMW has one-upped itself, rolling out one of the most jaw-dropping car exterior treatments ever. After unveiling the blackest car in the universe back in 2019, the company has just presented an iX Flow concept with color-changing E Ink panels.
Well, color maybe isn’t the right word; the car is covered in painstakingly laid out and clear-coated monochrome E Ink sheets. Unlike your typical e-reader, it doesn’t appear to be able to display fine-resolution text; BMW has set the entire car up as a single pixel, so to speak, that can switch between white and dark gray. But the change radiates out gradually along the individual sheets over the course of a couple of seconds – hence the images here, which capture the process in mid-shift.
It might be a relatively simple way to use E Ink, but the process of making this concept car looks like a nightmare. The project team, led by Stella Clarke, first had to “unwrap” the 3D shapes of the car panels into 2D shapes, then use generative design techniques to determine the best way to break those up into a series of polygonal shapes. Then, after paper prototypes had been cut and tested, the team started laser-cutting its E Ink panels and sticking them onto the car.
After clear-coating it all to make sure it’s at least a bit capable of withstanding road grit, water and debris, the team then had to wire up a crazy number of electronic connections back to a central computer, and then program the color shift operations.
The final effect is stunning in an understated and classy way; BMW’s executive team must be positively frothing over how well it fits the brand. It works beautifully, and since it’s E Ink, it requires no power other than the small signal prompting the panels to change.
There’s some interesting potential with this kind of thing; obviously, the temptation would be to deck the next version out with higher-resolution E Ink panels that can actually display images and text. That could be fun, as evidenced by previous projects that apply the same concept to sneakers and bracelets. And of course, there’s E Ink’s Advanced Color ePaper, or ACeP, which can deliver either full color, or a restricted palette of options. We wouldn’t be surprised to see BMW rolling out something along these lines in the future.
Will it make production as a color option? That seems unlikely, at least in the near future. Large E Ink displays are insanely expensive at the moment – at least ones like the gorgeous 42-inch Quirklogic Quilla whiteboard, which, five years after we first saw it, is now on sale for a rock-bottom US$4,888.89. Admittedly that’s got some smarts built in, but still we shudder to think what a full-color ACeP wrap that’s big enough for a whole car might cost. And that’s to say nothing of durability; a rogue supermarket trolley’s desperate bid for freedom in a slanted car park could have very expensive repercussions in the real world.
Still, the iX Flow E Ink is super cool to look at, and it definitely sparks the imagination, so it’s a worthy concept car for sure. Check out a video below.
Color-changing BMW iX Flow, featuring E-Ink