BMW makes smart cars cozier with zero gravity and hotel interiors
BMW has hit the CES concept car scene with an imaginative duo of chauffeured vehicles that ride like comfortable living rooms, taking care of passengers' every whim and need. The i3 Urban Suite dumps the standard rear passenger seats for a cozy, personalized sitting room inspired by boutique hotels. The i Interaction Ease, meanwhile, tasks augmented reality with keeping the passenger engaged and informed throughout the ride. Forgive the clunky concept names, and you see a very attractive vision of the future of commuting.
i3 Urban Suite
We recently looked at how camping vehicles are set to evolve in the coming decade, but if car interiors start looking anything like BMW's CES lineup, dedicated camping vehicles may just go extinct, replaced by a new generation of urban commuter camper cars. Throw a portable stove in the i3 Urban Suite, and you have a comfortable, easy-park zero-emissions vehicle in which to commute, relax, eat and sleep.
With visions of boutique hotel rooms dancing in its head, BMW has ripped out everything aside from the driver's seat and dashboard, redesigning the car cabin into a cozy cocoon for one. It's not the most efficient use of interior space, but it certainly takes passenger comfort to new heights and proves that luxury doesn't require a stretched wheelbase. The single rear passenger enjoys a lounge seat complete with adjustable footrest. A side table replaces the second rear seat, and there's even a touch-activated table lamp.
A drop-down headliner display with mobile device mirroring serves up entertainment or work content during the ride. The personalized sound zone emanating from the headrest blanks out exterior noise to immerse the passenger in the audio track.
To improve upon the eco credentials of the base electric i3, BMW has reached for sustainable wood, recycled fabrics, olive-tanned leather and recyclable floor mat material in creating the Urban Suite, all of which feels a bit silly in an oversized single-person urban transporter that doesn't exactly raise the bar for efficient commuting. We think the concept would be better served borrowing a convertible table/seat design from the aforementioned camper industry so it could double its capacity, allowing for the possibility of at least two passengers at a time. That would certainly make it more eco-friendly than some recycled PET and certified oak.
Case in point, as part of the i3 Urban Suite CES debut, BMW has a fleet of 20 Urban Suite vehicles serving as luxurious ride-shares for attendees, who can call up a ride with a special app. While we're sure stretching out in an i3 concept car will be a welcome experience for achy-jointed show goers, we're equally sure that some of those passengers would prefer zipping from A to B in duos or trios, simultaneously cutting the number of ride-share vehicles out clogging up the Strip.
i Interaction Ease
The Urban Suite shows how BMW could rearrange the interior of a contemporary electric vehicle, and the i Interaction Ease takes things into the fully autonomous era. BMW purposely made the concept exterior a nondescript, non-wheeled sculpture, sharpening focus on the interior, where the loss of the driver's seat allows for a dual-rear recliner layout with Urban Suite-like legroom. The Intelligent Personal Assistant welcomes passengers aboard and directs them to their seats with specialized lighting.
Once inside, the human-machine interface (HMI) becomes a dazzling highlight, augmenting the usual touch, gesture and natural voice control systems with AI-driven gaze detection. The system doesn't even wait for a command, identifying when a passenger has fixed his or her sights on a specific object outside the vehicle and automatically delivering information or options. For example, if the passenger looks at a new restaurant, the system might provide a bit of background or offer options such as menu viewing or reservation making. All this, and the passenger did nothing more than glance at the restaurant while driving past – no touchscreen menu navigation or shouting commands repeatedly in a crescendo of aggravation.
Should the passenger want information about something that isn't automatically picked up by gaze detection, he or she can use gestures or voice control to point it out. A full-width panorama head-up display layers information via augmented reality and alternatively works as an entertainment display or tinted-glass cabin shade. With the latter, passengers can stretch out in their zero gravity reclining seats and catch a little shut-eye.
BMW plans to harvest the first fruits of the Interaction Ease interface for use in the iNext electric vehicle.
Additional BMW CES highlights
BMW isn't focused solely on the long term at CES, showing a few more imminent innovations, starting with the X7 ZeroG Lounger. Sort of a modern-day version of the lounge seats previewed in the Interaction Ease concept, the X7 recliners can lean back 40 or 60 degrees for living room-like comfort, the seat belts moving along with them for snug safety. Each chair also includes a special cocoon airbag for protection in the event of an accident. An integrated wireless induction charging dock repositions the smartphone screen for use in all reclined positions, and an accompanying headliner display allows the passenger to enjoy entertainment while kicked back. BMW plans to add the ZeroG Lounger to production vehicles within the "next few years."
BMW is also highlighting 5G connectivity, scheduled to be offered via dedicated SIM card when the production iNext launches in mid 2021. The new wireless standard will underpin features such as Level 3 autonomy, high-precision satellite navigation, vehicle-to-X data sharing, and productivity and entertainment offerings like cloud-based gaming, video conferencing and 4K streaming.
CES 2020 runs through Friday, and in addition to being able to hail i3 Urban Suites, attendees can schedule a test ride in an X7 ZeroG Lounger.