BMW I Vision Dee Concept Comes With a 'Digital Soul'
On Wednesday, BMW revealed the color-changing i Vision Dee concept during its keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2023 held in Las Vegas – showcasing a bevy of novel technologies the automaker would like to see installed into its future products. While some of these seemed grounded in reality, with the Bavarian brand’s chairman already confirming their implementation on its forthcoming “Neue Klasse” vehicle platform, others items were so fantastical that it would be difficult to imagine them making it to production vehicles.
Like most concept vehicles, the Dee is just a canvas BMW can use to whet the public appetite for upcoming products. It's here to offer a sense of the direction the brand intends to head. In fact, the name itself is supposed to be an acronym for “Digital Emotional Experience” – with the manufacturer suggesting that it wants to leverage software to create an even stronger bond between people and their cars.
One way is to increase the level of customization available to drivers. BMW says that the Dee has an improved version of the “E Ink” that premiered on the iX Flow concept vehicle that premiered at CES 2022. Unlike the SUV, which could only transition its exterior color in grayscale, the Dee has 32 vibrant colors at its disposal which can be swapped on the fly. While variable exterior colors are things we’ve seen at countless industry trade shows, BMW is offering the most stunning example we’ve ever encountered.
Reminiscent of the adaptive camouflage military contractors have been working on for ages, E Ink is actually a little more impressive on the visual spectrum. The number of available patterns appears endless and the speed at which the car can swap between hues is enviable. If BMW ever decides to offer an infrared component, I’m sure it’ll start getting phone calls from jealous defense companies. But it seems like we’re probably a decade (or more) away from color-changing paint jobs making their way onto any production vehicles.
BMW did confirm that the Dee’s “mixed reality slider” is on deck for the real world, however. While Google Glass never really caught on with mainstream consumers, augmented reality still has a lot of hype behind it. BMW said the Dee (and subsequent production vehicles) will prompt drivers to set up how many layers of additional data they want on their head-up display.
Some levels are clearly there to make the Dee seem more futuristic. For example, there’s an option to black out all of the Dee’s windows and have the vehicle display an entirely virtual environment during autonomous driving (something no production vehicle is presently capable of). Alternatively, that space can be used to stream movies or play your favorite video games as your car (theoretically) drives you to your chosen destination.
But there are also overlays that add additional context and have nothing to do with autonomous transportation. The most basic level provides what you’d expect to find on most modern HUDs with navigational cues. Level two adds text messaging and calls. Level three enhances the navigational display by expanding everything across the windshield to better identify and highlight possible hazards, points of interest, and more.
Unfortunately, things kind of fell apart after that. During the presentation, BMW claimed that level four would allow occupants to virtually invite their loved ones and pets along for the ride. But this was never really explained, with the automaker leaning into a lot of emotional language instead. The summary that was given was that the BMW customers “wouldn’t believe what fits” into the car of the future and that the experience would be akin to “being in your own personal drive-in cinema. But the movie is your life.”
BMW has big aspirations for the future of advanced HUDs using augmented reality, with leadership already confident that they’ll become the dominant interface within 10 years ( check out Chris Teague’s piece for more info).
The automaker also suggested that Dee possessed a “digital soul” and personality that would help endear itself to drivers. In fact, the car was referenced as a “she” throughout the presentation with BMW Chairman Oliver Zipse suggesting that doing otherwise would “hurt her feelings.” Dee, according to BMW, is not an automobile but rather “a promise, a commitment, or – even better – a companion.”
After this, Zipse and the car begin flirting with each other – Dee clearly being played by a woman situated behind the curtains. Though this was done so the company could hype forthcoming improvements to its voice-command system. With few physical controls to speak of, Dee actually needs voice commands to make the touch-only cabin more functional. However, BMW likewise wants to streamline the interior of upcoming production models in a similar manner.
“With the BMW i Vision Dee, we are showcasing what is possible when hardware and software merge. In this way, we are able to exploit the full potential of digitization to transform the car into an intelligent companion. That is the future for automotive manufacturers – and, also, for BMW: the fusion of the virtual experience with genuine driving pleasure,” stated Zipse. “At the same time, BMW i Vision Dee is another step on the road to the Neue Klasse. With this vision, we are looking far into the future and underlining the tremendous importance of digitization for our upcoming product generations.”
BMW is seriously into software-defined vehicles at present and believes that leveraging vehicular connectivity will be hugely profitable in the coming years. It’s a concept the entire industry has been toying with. But German brands seem to be the most committed as a group, which is why you’ve seen so many articles about BMW testing the limits of what consumers will accept in terms of digital paywalls. Frankly, the brand has taken a lot of heat for abandoning the fundamentals to chase the tech buffet it believes will underpin the next wave of luxury vehicles. Though this level of focus also means it’ll probably be installing features in vehicles other manufacturers are years away from implementing effectively.
While the presentation itself provided numerous opportunities to roll one’s eyes, the i Vision Dee concept offered a lot of interesting tech BMW said would begin making its way into production vehicles by 2025. It’s just not clear how much of it will resonate with consumers. Despite the entire industry doing its utmost to make vehicles more like tablet computers, drivers are giving a lot of mixed feedback about touch controls and voice commands. It’s also not abundantly clear that connectivity features will be widely embarrassed as more consumers become conscious of privacy issues.
BMW has to walk a very fine line here. The automotive sector has already stretched the public’s faith a little too far after making countless empty promises about self-driving technologies. Making the Dee fantastical is fine – that’s what concept cars are for. But consumers may be turned off if her features aren’t executed perfectly on these upcoming production vehicles. Companies like BMW and Mercedes absolutely need to keep their offerings on the cutting edge to maintain their historic position within the industry. However, doing so in a manner that doesn’t actually yield added convenience will backfire and there have already been criticisms directed at both automakers for how they’ve been handling over-the-air updates.
Though they seem to be aware of this.
“A BMW lives by its unparalleled digital performance. BMW i Vision Dee is about perfect integration of virtual and physical experiences,” said Frank Weber, member of the Board of Management of BMW AG responsible for Development. “Whoever excels at integrating the customer’s everyday digital worlds into the vehicle at all levels will succeed in mastering the future of car-building."
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A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.
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