WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Materials are changing, they’re becoming smarter, more capable, and more controllable – and digital – and this is a good example of future applications.
If you’ve ever wanted a colour changing car, or at least one that changes something about its appearance, then good news BMW has one upped itself, rolling out one of the most jaw dropping car exterior treatments ever shown off. After unveiling the blackest car in the universe back in 2019 by using special nanotech paint, the company has now shown off its iX Flow concept with colour changing E Ink panels.
Well, colour 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 yet but 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 video which shows it off nicely.
See the tech in action
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 colour shift operations.
The final effect is stunning in an understated and classy way, and 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, and the temptation would be to deck the next version out with higher-resolution E Ink panels that can actually display custom images.
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 colour, or a restricted palette of options. I wouldn’t be surprised to see BMW rolling out something along these lines in the future.
Will it make production as a colour option though? That seems unlikely, at least in the near future but eventually yes.
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 I first saw it, is now on sale for a rock-bottom $4,888.
Admittedly that’s got some smarts built in, but still I shudder to think what a full-colour ACeP wrap that’s big enough for a whole car might cost. And that’s to say nothing of durability or a rogue supermarket trolley’s desperate bid for freedom in a slanted car park which 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.