BMW unveils colour-changing iX Flow SUV

by Tulip Charowa

BMW this week unveiled the iX Flow featuring E Ink at the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show, in Las Vegas.

The Munich-based premium car manufacturer is proposing the prospect of a future technology that uses digitisation to adapt the exterior of a vehicle to different situations and individual wishes.

The surface of the BMW iX Flow featuring E Ink can vary its shade at the driver’s prompting.

“Digital experiences won’t just be limited to displays in the future,” says BMW management board member responsible for development Frank Weber.

“There will be more and more melding of the real and virtual. With the BMW iX Flow, we are bringing the car body to life.”

The fluid colour changes are made possible by a specially developed body wrap that is tailored to the contours of the all-electric iX sports activity vehicle.

When stimulated by electrical signals, the electrophoretic technology brings different colour pigments to the surface, causing the body skin to take on the desired colouration.

“The BMW iX Flow is an advanced research and design project and a great example of the forward thinking that BMW is known for,” says BMW Group Design head Adrian van Hooydonk.

BMW believes that new technologies will provide a whole new level of decision-making freedom in the future.

“This [technology] gives the driver the freedom to express different facets of their personality, or even their enjoyment of change outwardly, and to redefine this each time they get into their car,” says Stella Clarke, who heads up the project for the BMW iX Flow featuring E Ink.

“Similar to fashion or the status ads on social media channels, the vehicle then becomes an expression of the different moods and circumstances in daily life.”

But it is also about efficiency, says the German car maker, especially when taking into account the different abilities of light and dark colours when it comes to reflecting sunlight and the associated absorption of thermal energy.

A white surface reflects a lot more sunlight than a black one.

By implication, the heating of the vehicle and passenger compartment as a result of strong sunlight and high outside temperatures can be reduced by changing the exterior to a light colour.

In cooler weather, a dark outer skin will help the vehicle to absorb noticeably more warmth from the sun.

In both cases, selective colour changes can help to cut the amount of cooling and heating required from the vehicle’s systems.

This reduces the amount of energy the vehicle’s electrical system needs and with it also the vehicle’s fuel or electricity consumption.

In an all-electric car, changing the colour in line with the weather can, therefore, also help to increase the range.

E Ink technology itself is extremely energy efficient, promises BMW.

Unlike displays or projectors, the electrophoretic technology needs no energy to keep the chosen colour state constant.

Current only flows during the short colour changing phase.
Electrophoretic colouring is based on a technology that is more well-known from the displays used in eReaders.

The surface coating of the BMW iX Flow featuring E Ink contains millions of microcapsules, with a diameter equivalent to the thickness of a human hair.

Each of these microcapsules contains negatively charged white pigments and positively charged black pigments.

Depending on the chosen setting, stimulation by means of an electrical field causes either the white or the black pigments to collect at the surface of the microcapsule, giving the car body the desired shade.

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