Mar 8, 2016 | By Kira

What will we be driving in the year 2116? According to BMW, 4D printed self-driving cars with augmented reality windshields and shape-shifting fenders might be the answer. To celebrate its centennial anniversary, the German car giant today unveiled the VISION NEXT 100, the first in a series of highly conceptual car designs that invite us into BMW’s vision for the next 100 years of driving.

From the outside, the VISION NEXT 100 is a compact, copper-colored sedan with wide-set wheels and an undeniably sleek and sporty personality. It’s true innovation, however, comes from within. Namely, BMW’s Alive Geometry Technology, a physical 3D sculpture spread over the instrument panel, seats, and other car parts, that consists of nearly 800 ‘moving triangles’ that can shape-shift and communicate with the driver.

With Alive Geometry, BMW has tapped into the extremely forward-thinking concept of 4D printing, where 3D printed objects are able to re-shape or re-assemble themselves over time, leading to exciting applications in soft robotics or biomimetic devices. The system thus integrates novel materials, intelligent sensors, and interactivity to enhance every possible aspect of the driving experience.

First of all, BMW’s concept car offers two driving modes: In Boost Mode, the driver is still in full control, but is assisted by a variety of interactive tech features designed to heighten both the experience, and the driver’s safety. For example, an augmented reality display projected across the entire windshield highlights optimal line steering and speeds, and can even project hidden hazards, such as a cyclist approaching from behind a truck, before they are visible to the naked eye.

In Ease Mode, the car’s interior physically adjusts to enhance the driver’s comfort. As the autonomous driving sensors kick in, the steering wheel and center console retract, giving the driver and passengers more space, and creating a relaxing, ‘lounge-like’ setting. In order to achieve this flexible physical space, much of the BMW VISION NEXT 100 is made from fabric-like materials and 4D printing concepts.

The Alive Geometry 4D printed structure also appears on the car’s exterior: as the wheels swivel, the 4D printed fenders smoothly adapt to keep them covered at all times. It’s a slightly disconcerting effect, one that makes the car seem almost snake-like and alive. It also helps the VISION NEXT 100 achieve a low drag coefficient of just 0.18.

Besides these innovative and responsive driving modes, BMW put quite a bit of focus on using lightweight and innovative materials in this new concept car, which it a envisions to be 100% emissions-free. In addition to using cast-off residue from carbon-fiber components for non-structural components, BMW also highlighted the use of more recycled or renewable materials, reflecting the present-day move towards more sustainable manufacturing, which will only intensify in the coming years.

Additional features include BMW’s Companion, a ‘digital intelligence’ tool that sits in the center console, learning about the driver and constantly adjusting the features, displays, and modes to provide the most comfortable and personalized driving experience possible.

While BMW’s vision of a 4D printed car that is able to shape-shift both inside and out may seem completely unrealistic today, 100, or even 50 years from now, that probably won’t be the case.  Consider that advanced materials and 3D printing technology are already being used in the automobile industry, from Local Motors entirely 3D printed car to Audi’s metal 3D printed car partsBMW itself recently celebrated 25 years of 3D printing technology. By the same token, 4D printing is one of the hottest new areas of research, with exciting new applications from space exploration to soft robots, and now, potentially futuristic cars.

BMW’s VISION NEXT 100 concept car was unveiled today in Munich, and will soon be brought to Beijing, London, and Los Angeles. BMW will also be unveiling similarly futuristic concepts for Mini, Rolls Royce, and the BMW Motorrad. Check out the videos below to see BMW's vision for 4D printed car technology in action:



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