Automotive

Deliciously retro-future Mini Urbanaut van explores inner space

Deliciously retro-future Mini ...
That looks kind of dangerous, but the windshield only pops open when the Urbanaut is parked, creating something of an open-air lounge space
That looks kind of dangerous, but the windshield only pops open when the Urbanaut is parked, creating something of an open-air lounge space
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The Vision Urbanaut is designed as even more for chilling in place than it is for driving from point to point
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The Vision Urbanaut is designed as even more for chilling in place than it is for driving from point to point
The idea of an open-air "Vibe" zone works in the city, at the park, on the beach or anywhere where people congregate
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The idea of an open-air "Vibe" zone works in the city, at the park, on the beach or anywhere where people congregate
"Chilling" in the rear lounge
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"Chilling" in the rear lounge
Mini doesn't provide an exact height but says the Urbanaut is taller than its typical vehicle
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Mini doesn't provide an exact height but says the Urbanaut is taller than its typical vehicle
Mini goes on a deep (interior) space exploration with the Urbanaut
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Mini goes on a deep (interior) space exploration with the Urbanaut
Short overhangs and backlit transparent wheels give the Urbanaut a distinctive profile
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Short overhangs and backlit transparent wheels give the Urbanaut a distinctive profile
The octagonal rear windshield mirrors the shape of the grille up front
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The octagonal rear windshield mirrors the shape of the grille up front
The Urbanaut has a single slide-and-swivel entry for all occupants
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The Urbanaut has a single slide-and-swivel entry for all occupants
That looks kind of dangerous, but the windshield only pops open when the Urbanaut is parked, creating something of an open-air lounge space
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That looks kind of dangerous, but the windshield only pops open when the Urbanaut is parked, creating something of an open-air lounge space
As we saw earlier in NEXTGen 2020, The BMW Group just can't resist putting large, unnecessary grilles on its EVs — as on the BMW iX, this one houses the automated sensors
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As we saw earlier in NEXTGen 2020, The BMW Group just can't resist putting large, unnecessary grilles on its EVs — as on the BMW iX, this one houses the automated sensors
Both the front and rear feature digital displays that work as lighting during driving and "Mini moment" screens while parked
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Both the front and rear feature digital displays that work as lighting during driving and "Mini moment" screens while parked
The transparent wheels feature a wave-inspired design and use backlighting to convey information
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The transparent wheels feature a wave-inspired design and use backlighting to convey information
Inside the "Chill" oasis
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Inside the "Chill" oasis
Ready to sate the "Wanderlust"
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Ready to sate the "Wanderlust"
The dashboard lowers down to become a daybed when parked
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The dashboard lowers down to become a daybed when parked
The circular screen over the table serves as the interface of "Mini moments"
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The circular screen over the table serves as the interface of "Mini moments"
Some physical tech in a digital world: the Mini token
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Some physical tech in a digital world: the Mini token
A digital update to the souvenir bumper stickers often associated with camper vans and overland vehicles, Mini's "tactile lovables" hang from the C-pillar
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A digital update to the souvenir bumper stickers often associated with camper vans and overland vehicles, Mini's "tactile lovables" hang from the C-pillar
The Glass extends from the windshield and to the rear roof, spilling over the sides for an edgeless look
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The Glass extends from the windshield and to the rear roof, spilling over the sides for an edgeless look
A set of Mini ring lamps
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A set of Mini ring lamps
If you though the description of Vibe was strange, here's what it looks like in pictures
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If you though the description of Vibe was strange, here's what it looks like in pictures
Mini didn't build a physical Urbanaut but it used a model and augmented reality to bring the digital version to life
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Mini didn't build a physical Urbanaut but it used a model and augmented reality to bring the digital version to life
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View gallery - 23 images

At its core, Mini has always been a brand that challenges conventional automotive dimensions. The badge's all-new Vision Urbanaut takes the challenge into the future, reorganizing interior space for a fully autonomous world. Mini houses a versatile, shape-shifting interior inside a set of smooth, timeless van lines to create a totally different style of MPV. It leaves us hoping that a Mini-van actually becomes a real thing ... so long as they ditch the cringey aspects of the design.

The Urbanaut is described as unusually tall for a Mini, but its 446-cm (176-in) length makes it a properly compact van just a few centimeters longer than the new Volkswagen Caddy. And that's the idea — showing how the generous space left over by a decentralized electric powertrain and dashboard-disappearing Level 5 sensor suite can make a "mini" a particularly spacious, versatile (and weird) MPV.

"In 1959, the very first Mini ushered in a small-scale revolution in vehicle construction with its transversely mounted engine," says Mini design chief Oliver Heilmer. "With the Vision Urbanaut, we have been able to rethink and increase the usable surface area inside the car even further in relation to its footprint."

Mini doesn't provide an exact height but says the Urbanaut is taller than its typical vehicle
Mini doesn't provide an exact height but says the Urbanaut is taller than its typical vehicle

Before we dutifully get into how Mini uses that increased interior surface area to create three "Mini moments" (spoiler alert: "chill," "wanderlust" and "vibe"), we can't help but start by plunging down that delightfully round, bubbled mono-shell. The adorable van greets familiar and unfamiliar onlookers with a digitized face made to show information in addition to light. Mere centimeters above its digital headlamps, the front-end flows into a spherical-glass windshield supported from below by a skeletal-like pillar structure. From some angles, the windshield appears to flow seamlessly into the glass roof, but there is in fact a very defined seam, with hinges that allow the windshield to swing up and serve as something of a veranda.

The Urbanaut is not a camper van, but its interior is comfortable enough to while away a full day in. Once parked, its dashboard drops down and transforms into a wraparound daybed. The seats, meanwhile, swivel much like a camper van's front seats, allowing for the occupants to face each other and otherwise reposition comfortably. The darker rear lounge invites occupants to escape for some alone time under the ambient glow of a digital mood arch.

The Urbanaut has a single slide-and-swivel entry for all occupants
The Urbanaut has a single slide-and-swivel entry for all occupants

Yes, a digital mood arch ... and then things get weirder. The side table with plant looks simple and domestic enough but is actually the portal to those Mini moments you're going to wish we had forgotten about. Drop your worry stone-sized token into one of the slots on the table and get whisked away to the moment of your choosing.

"Chill" lives up to its name by creating a relaxing inner sanctum focused on the rear lounge, with nature sounds, ambient music, and a forest canopy displayed on the digital arch. The circular display that hangs over the table drops down to serve as a lamp. Outside, the digital lights and backlit wheels take on a forested appearance to convey to the world that the passengers are busy chilling in their own urban oasis.

Inside the "Chill" oasis
Inside the "Chill" oasis

The only "moment" during which the Urbanaut is in fact acting like a vehicle and moving forward, "Wanderlust" supports a theme of dynamism and travel. The digital arch above the rear lounge shows the blur of passing scenery, while the circular screen amidships displays navigation and trip info atop a backdrop of retro-inspired travel imagery. Passengers can choose to drive or ride under automated power by simply tapping on the Mini logo to transform the dashboard and prompt the exterior digital surfaces to communicate whether man or machine is at the helm.

"Vibe" attempts to create a sort of in-vehicle lounge, opening the sliding door and popping the windshield to erase the divide between city and car. The circular screen becomes a command center for controlling music and other media, and both the interior and exterior display graphics of an equalizer moving to the beat.

The idea of an open-air "Vibe" zone works in the city, at the park, on the beach or anywhere where people congregate
The idea of an open-air "Vibe" zone works in the city, at the park, on the beach or anywhere where people congregate

So those are Mini moments for you. And yes, we enjoyed the mini VW bus-like exterior styling much better before reading about that interior weirdness, too. In the very unlikely event Mini ever pursues such a vehicle, we can only hope it offers a basic empty cargo variant for buyers to build out themselves.

Source: Mini

View gallery - 23 images
4 comments
Sione Faatulogalofaa
The scale of the people in the last image doesn't quite match. Perhaps they are only selling the vehicle to Smurfs.
MemoriaTechnica
I'm getting tired of these urban vehicle and electric van concepts, because cause they *never* build them. Show me something real.
WB
Blows my mind when these firms and designers put out these concepts that are completely retarded. I mean it's nice when you show an interior shot and make it look like the vehicle is 4x as large..works with fish eye lens...but when you then put in people it just fails. It also means that this ever gets built is next to zero. I think New Atlas got suckered into a PR story, while the company itself hasnt even put a half decent engineer onto this project.. or how on earth would that last pic with all those people and all that extra space to be explained - IN A MINI!
buzzclick
Does this concept ever have a chance of becoming real? Keep it digital and be done with it.