BMW’s iNext concept previews futuristic technology

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NEW YORK – Concept cars are imaginative. And BMW's Vision iNEXT is a tremendously imaginative ride.

The fully electric, semiautonomic crossover is more of an "incubator" than an early glimpse of a production-ready car. But the vehicle reveals the technologies developed by BMW, including smart fabrics, touch-sensitive door handles, an artificial intelligence based infotainment system and next-gen batteries.

Froelich: iNEXT is a flagship.

"The traditional car has certainly become a smart car," said R & D boss Klaus Froehlich of BMW Group at a sneak peek this month, before the car is shown to the public at the Los Angeles Auto Show this year. BMW only offered a limited view of the iNEXT in the belly of a restored Boeing 777 Freighter parked at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

"The iNEXT is much more than just a car," he said. "It integrates all our strategic innovation areas."

The big crossover is scheduled to go into production in 2021 and is a flagship for the BMW i brand, told Froehlich Automotive News. The sub-brand will be at the forefront of BMW's new innovations, birth technologies that will eventually migrate to the rest of the automaker's line-up.

Powered by BMW's fifth generation electric powertrain and batteries, the iNEXT is expected to have a range of well north of 370 miles based on the new estimates of the Harmonized Light Vehicle estimation method. The US EPA range may differ; BMW has not released an EPA estimate.

But before the first of the next generation of vehicles can be fitted, the battery technology must improve. BMW hopes to power the iNEXT with batteries with higher density and expandable packages.

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"I am not willing to put 800 or 900 kilograms of battery in a car," Froehlich said. He explained that heavy batteries influence the steering. "That is why I had to wait for the cell with the high energy density in 2021."

The iNEXT is launched with autonomous driving technology of level 3, which means drivers have to check the system and have to be ready to take control back. It will eventually contain Level 4 and higher technology that allows the vehicle to drive without human intervention in certain circumstances.

& # 39; Level 3, I can guarantee that, & # 39; said Froehlich. He noted that the car should be able to process the traffic on the motorway and, in case of emergency, should go to the shoulder and stand still.

To achieve level 3 autonomy, BMW needs more than 150 million miles to train the software. About 95 percent of that validation will be done via computer simulation, Froehlich said. To test that, BMW is building a data center that can process more than 200 petabytes of data.

The iNEXT is produced in Dingolfing, Germany, the home of BMW's leading production center for battery technologies and e-drives.

EV inspired design

With the iNEXT, BMW has adapted its distinctive kidney lattice and opted for a large, upright version with a butterfly design that crosses the centerline.

"We want to show that this is an electric vehicle," says Adrian van Hooydonk, BMW design boss. "It is a visual indication of this new type of vehicle."

The design change is also a nod to the electric powertrain of the vehicle. Because there is no need to cool a combustion engine, the grille functions as an "intelligent panel" with the various sensors required for semi-autonomous driving.

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The BMW iNEXT's center armrest resembles a coffee table, but thanks to the wooden panel, people can interact with the vehicle.

The front is bookmarked by super-slim headlights, a riff on the distinctive four-eyed design of the BMW. The windshield extends into the roof to create a large panoramic view above the head, similar to that in a Tesla Model X crossover.

The exterior has different design elements that indicate that the vehicle has more concept than ready for the road.

High-definition cameras replace side mirrors, while touch-sensitive illuminated images take the place of conventional door handles.

The latter, though cool, may be too picky for application in the real world.

The car doors open suicide style, without B-pillar. When opened, they offer an unobstructed view of the interior. The tapered shape of the windows reflects the airflow around the car.

The back design is ready to optimize aerodynamics. It includes an integrated spoiler, narrow edges defined by slim LED tail lights and a prominent diffuser, thanks to the lack of exhaust pipes.

Smart interior

Although the exterior design is largely what can be expected in the production version, that is not the case with the interior, which is designed for an autonomous driving style in which passengers will be driven instead of driving.

"Autonomous driving, connectivity and artificial intelligence in combination offer a chance to completely reconsider how we will use the time in a car," says Froehlich. "This requires a different interior."

The minimalist design – with wide screens, jacquard fabric and wood with open pores – is inspired by the interior of boutique hotels or living rooms, "Van Hooydonk said.

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"We wanted this to be a very warm, very clean, very modern space that is really a pleasure to spend time with," he said.

Rear passengers can operate the media through the seat upholstery.

The iNEXT interior is complemented by tomorrow's technologies, but much of the technology remains camouflaged – a concept that BMW's shy tech & # 39; calls. Passengers in the back seat can, for example, operate media with finger movements on the fabric of the chair. Light-emitting diodes in the carpet-like fabric follow the movement, recognize the symbol and pass instructions to the on-board computer to play a list of songs.

The center armrest, with a matte wood panel and slender bronze feet, looks like a coffee table. But the wooden panel can function as a control panel.

Unlike some concept cars, BMW missed the lounge-seat layout for autonomous driving mode, believing that the rotating front seats are complex and can pose safety issues. Instead, the headrest of the iNEXT front seat can be folded back, allowing people at the front to communicate more easily with the rear passengers.

The layout has two driving modes. In the "Boost" mode, the steering wheel and the displays are positioned in the direction of the driver. When the "Ease" mode is switched on, the steering wheel slightly retracts and the brake and accelerator levers retract into the floor plate.

"As technology becomes more complicated, we want the user interface to become simpler, user-friendly and more intuitive," says Van Hooydonk. "We want the technology to be visible only when you need it, when you want it."