BMW celebrates its 100th birthday by looking ahead
On March 7, the day that, 100 years ago, BMW AG began life as a company, Germany’s best-selling premium automaker celebrated by unveiling a radical concept car it says previews the future of BMW. Yes, the prosaically named BMW Vision Next 100 can function as a fully autonomous vehicle. But, insists BMW, the Vision Next 100 also shows how the company’s highly advanced intelligent electronics will deliver an even more intense driving experience when the occupant chooses to take the wheel. Oh, and it’s a shape-shifter.
Like most legacy automakers, BMW believes drivers will still want to drive in the autonomous vehicle age, and so the key idea behind the Vision Next 100 is to use digital intelligence and connectivity to turn even the average driver into what BMW calls the Ultimate Driver. The Vision Next 100 was therefore designed from the inside out, with the emphasis on creating a spacious cabin relative to the vehicle’s footprint while retaining typically BMW stance and styling cues. In simple terms, the BMW Vision Next 100 is about the size of a 5 Series sedan, but with the interior room of a 7 Series.
The interior configuration alters depending on whether the Vision Next 100 is operating autonomously — called Ease mode in BMW-speak — or whether the driver is in command — Boost mode. In Ease mode the steering “wheel” — in reality little more than two hand grips — folds away into the dash, and the car does all the work, leaving the occupants to settle back and use the HUD display windshield for watching movies, doing emails, etc.
In Boost mode, drivers are given control, but the car’s artificial intelligence is used to extend their capabilities of perception and reaction to almost super-human levels. The HUD windshield shows things like the ideal line through corners and warns of hidden hazards, enhancing situational awareness. And should the driver fail to respond quickly, the car will step in and take over.