Last night, at an event a few blocks away from the Los Angeles Auto Show, BMW hosted the world premiere of its latest vision vehicle, dubbed the iNext.
BMW has spent the last few months touring the iNext concept around the world in an exclusive partnership with German airline Lufthansa, but those were private events and this event marks the official world premiere of the vehicle to the general public.
The iNext is one of BMW’s vision vehicles, which it uses as a platform to play with new technologies to see if they could be a good fit for use in a production vehicle or two. The automotive industry is currently in the middle of some of the largest disruptions in its short history as the world looks to combat the effects of catastrophic climate change by electrifying the vehicles we use to get around.
BMW bundled the current disruptions into a new acronym — ACES, which stands for Autonomous, Connected, Electric, and Services/Shared. These disruptions are not new, as they have been in development for a number of years by every automotive manufacturer on the planet and have simultaneously inspired a new generation of carmakers, like Tesla, Byton, Nio, and more.
All The Range
BMW pulled out all the stops with the iNext, starting with all the foundational parts of BMW’s i series of vehicles that we have come to expect. When it comes to market in 2021, the BMW iNext will represent the 5th generation of BMW’s electric vehicles and will boast an impressive 435 miles of all-electric range.
That is a step-change improvement in battery capacity and range from today’s 3rd generation vehicles (153 miles of all-electric range per charge). Between now and then, BMW shared that its iX3 and i4 vehicles, which presumably represent the brand’s 4th generation electric vehicles, will achieve around 250 miles of range per charge on the WLTP test cycle when they hit the market in 2020. That makes the iNext vision a big step forward in range and a big step up in battery capacity for the brand.
Charging is also a consideration for the iNext, though clearly not a core focus of the project — it represents a much more linear evolution. Current AC charging speeds are what you would expect, in the 7–30 kW range, while BMW has its sights set on the 200–250 kW range for the 5th generation.
Electric Vehicle v5.0
The BMW iNext represents the 5th generation of BMW i vehicles and indication that the company has been working to further optimize its vehicles for distinct customer groups around the world. BMW’s vice president of development for its electric drivetrain, Stefan Juraschek, said that customers in Europe are seeing their needs met with the current range of the BMW i3.
Since rolling out the i3, BMW has doubled the all-electric range of the i3 to 153 miles of range per charge. That all but eliminates the need for a range extender (REx) in the i3 for BMW’s European customers, so BMW has removed the REx option in that market.
In the iNext, BMW is pushing its tech forward towards a fully autonomous future in very intentional steps. In partnership with Mobileye, it has developed incremental electronic control units (ECUs) to support levels 2 through 4 of autonomy.
BMW is developing the solutions in partnership with Mobileye, and while some parts of the solution were developed by BMW, it is not a proprietary solution. BMW’s position is that with over 30 different companies around the world pursuing the same objective of fully autonomous driving and on similar trajectories to achieving it, there is little competitive advantage to be gained from a disproportionately large investment to develop a unique solution.
BMW’s expert on all things autonomous, Klaus Büttner, said that BMW is aiming to bring a level 3 solution to customers in 2021 that will let customers use the system to perform most of the driving done on highways. The iNext is ultimately targeting level 4 autonomy, which will require a complex suite of sensors, including 4 corner lidar, radar, GPS, tri-focal cameras, and solid-state laser scanners with 150 layers. Level 4 autonomous driving will allow the vehicle to navigate complex urban environments on its own.
The suite of sensors feed data into the system to be labeled and processed by the onboard artificial intelligence (AI) solution. The objects identified by the disparate sensor systems are compared and used to determine accuracy. Essentially, the AI compares notes from all of the systems to determine which is the most reliable, training itself to get better over time. BMW believes that this ability to constantly improve and evolve over time will ensure a more robust solution for the impossibly complex scenarios the world will inevitably throw at it.
The goal for the future of the “ultimate driving machine” is to give drivers a choice between driving or letting the car drive. Or, as BMW says it, drivers will have a choice between fully autonomous Ease mode and taking charge with Boost mode.
The exterior of the iNext screams that it is from the future, pulling design cues notes from the BMW i8, but the real innovation is on the inside. BMW carved out the interior of the vehicle in a way that makes passengers feel as if they are inside a modern hotel room. The tops of the front seats can recline to afford comfortable conversation with the rear passengers, and the hardwood floors are durable enough to withstand a lifetime of use.
Twin displays up front present information relevant to the trip or possibly a movie to make the time fly when in autonomous mode. At the rear of the vehicle, passenger entertainment comes in the form of an overhead projector that can project movies, images, or even text onto a virtual notebook to pass the time.
The rear lounge is wrapped in beautiful tapestry that hints of old-world charm, but has been injected with modernity in the form of integrated touchpads with responsive lighting that control the experience in the car. It’s as if someone embedded an iPad into the seat, while retaining all the comforts of your favorite sofa.
At least, that’s the vision. As it stands today, the touch-sensitive areas of the bench seat have been rigged up to control the music, but it’s easy to imagine them with more capability. Swipe the seat with a single finger to skip tracks or touch it lightly with three fingers to turn off the music. A pinch or a spread with two fingers conjures a beautiful ring that expands or contracts along with the volume.
BMW calls these carefully honed, fully integrated solutions Shy Tech. When you don’t need them, you don’t notice them, but when they’re enabled, they work flawlessly. They’re in concept form for now, so while they’re functioning, they have not yet been fully vetted for the durability or functionality that is required for production vehicles.
The iNext is a beautiful look into the future for BMW, and while not many of the features showcased are groundbreaking, it is inspiring and exciting to see them all put together into a beautiful package.
All images by Kyle Field | CleanTechnica
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