This is the BMW i Vision Dee, which officially debuted at CES 2023. Dee stands for Digital Emotional Experience and the car is a mid-size sedan that mixes some great design ideas with plenty of technical innovations – inside and out.
The concept was demonstrated in Oliver Zipse’s BMW CES Keynote speech and makes perfect sense in the larger-than-life Las Vegas setting. Definitely stunning to look at. From the outside, the car looks exactly like a converted 3 Series—a car that harnesses the best parts of the past, while subtly projecting the future.
Central to this are the smooth lines and the way the bodywork blends seamlessly with the glasswork. These lines extend from the graceful nose section and dual angled headlights at the front and all the way to the rear, where the taillights continue the bold look. The sides are also soft and smooth, while the wheels follow suit, using sleek yellow design lines to complement the simple yellow dots on the bodywork.
BMW may have used the classic three-box sedan layout that used to sell millions of cars in the past, but the Dee is an entirely different possibility. Traditional design elements, such as those headlights and grille, have been given the so-called phygital treatment. No, that’s not a typo, it’s a term BMW coined to describe the fusion of physical and digital elements.
Adding to this digital treatment is the way Dee can talk to people as they approach, with an image of the driver’s avatar projected onto the side windows. When you see it up close, the effect is really impressive thanks to the high-resolution graphics, with dimmable windows that allow people to stay hidden from view.
The innovation gets even wilder once the doors open and you get your first glimpse inside Dee. What catches your eye first is the wide display that stretches across the bottom of the windshield in full, brilliant colour. Drivers can pick and choose how much digital content is displayed thanks to “shy-tech” sensors on the dash. There is also a twist steering wheel, with a single center spoke.
Another party trick comes in the form of vegetal hotspots. For example, place your fingers near the door panel and a virtual key will appear for you to press. It disappears again when you move your hand away. One of the most practical things about using something like this in real life is that fewer components will be needed in the future. This should help automakers save huge amounts of money in production costs over time.
The rest of the interior is plain and simple, with sculpted seats topped with delicately curved headrests. There is no transmission tunnel either, so there is nothing but open space across the floor area. Meanwhile, the driver’s seat has a molded-in armrest on the right side, which has a small tab for the driving position. The brake and accelerator pedals add to the potential for the BMW i Vision Dee to be an electric car, though the car itself is just a rolling concept.
Real possibilities and cutting edge innovations
While the Dee is about showcasing the future, the car also contains innovations that will carry over into the new models. In fact, BMW believes that some of the technology shown here will be available in production vehicles by 2025.
“With the BMW i Vision Dee, we are showing what is possible when hardware and software are combined. In this way, we can exploit the full potential of digitization to turn the car into an intelligent companion. This is the future for car manufacturers, and also for BMW: the fusion of virtual experience with real driving pleasure.”
BMW’s Dee show isn’t all there is to see from the Munich-based automotive masterminds, either. Think back to CES 2022 and you’ll likely remember the unveiling of yet another understated car from Bavarian masterminds; BMW iX Flow. It featured body panels that could change color using electrophoresis technology, which was cool to see in action.
Well, in the time since last year’s show, the team behind this amazing feat has been pretty busy. Led by Stella Clark, the project leader who came up with the original idea after being inspired by the technology used in e-readers, E-Ink has moved on by leaps and bounds. In fact, it’s now available in full, chameleon-like color and is displayed on Dee’s bodywork.
Where the idea originally used only gray and black for the work, the concept has evolved and now has the ability to use colour, from all across the spectrum. Basically, this works by drawing on a very small but unique effort to create a shade from a color palette similar to the CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) used in traditional printing. Up to 32 colors can be displayed in total.
For example, a wheel’s trim can change from yellow to purple and back again simply by passing current through the material. This is similar to plastic film, but can actually be processed to fit the contours of a vehicle’s body or interior panels. The team has divided the BMW i Vision Dee into 240 sections, all of which can be controlled independently of one another.
This means that the concept has evolved greatly with an infinite range of possible patterns across the bodywork area, all of which can change in seconds. The team used a precise laser cutting process to obtain the different layers of film needed to cover the car all around.
Working alongside the E Ink staff, BMW’s creative engineers have been able to produce a dazzling display of programmed animation, giving the BMW I Vision Dee a truly unique edge. It’s a far cry from the rough-edged iX sedan that was revved up to make the CES 2022 show deadline.
After the latest developments with the color aspect of E Ink, it seems quite possible that some of what is currently on BMW’s demonstration vehicle may eventually make it to production cars in the not-too-distant future. Maybe we’ll also see a down-the-road version of Dee?