With the i Inside, that autonomous driving future is seen as a chance to alter the car's interior concept from one of face-forward driving to being a room in which passengers spend their journey interacting or accomplishing tasks other than driving.
The current suite of BMW Connected services, recently updated in cooperation with Amazon to include the Echo voice-assistant, and the new BMW HoloActive Touch system are seen as beginnings to a future of heavily interactive and connected vehicles. A primitive version of the latter is now in the 7 Series via gesture control.
The way BMW is envisioning the concept for the i Inside Future is somewhere in the interim between fully automated driving (at all times) and partially automated driving wherein the car can drive itself in many situations, but not all of them. This nearer-term self-driving future has the driver telling the vehicle the destination, choosing the route from the in-vehicle guidance, and then taking over driving in the places on that route where the car's autonomous systems cannot go.
The i Future's driver's cockpit changes depending on the drive mode. During automated driving, the display and control system changes so that controls for acceleration, braking, and steering are minimized. When in active driving mode ("Drive Time"), those controls move to the fore and allow the driver to take over seamlessly. Most of the cockpit's instrumentation is housed within a widescreen monitor called the Dashboard Display. Voice control and BMW's HoloActive Touch system are the primary means of interaction with the display, which changes according to the driving mode and the requests from those in the vehicle. For other passengers in the BMW i Inside Future concept, a Sound Curtain and more widescreen displays are in store.
Showcasing HoloActive Touch
One of the main showcases of the BMW i Inside Future concept is its HoloActive Touch interface. This infotainment and information system interface uses a menu system and layout that is similar to a touchscreen tablet or smartphone, but does not require that the user touch the screen. Instead, it combines BMW's gesture control with holographic elements and tactile feedback.
Think of it as being Hollywood made real. Those virtual screens that project around the user, ala Minority Report, are now inside a concept car at CES 2017.
With fingers a few inches away from the screen/interface, elements of the screen's output are projected holographically to the user's fingertips. Touching, sliding, or otherwise interacting with those holographic menu choices and screens not only controls the interface, but also produces tactile feedback generated by ultrasound waves sent from the system. Thus the user "feels" the touches as selections are made and the "woosh" of swiping a screen to the side.
For the driver, a similar unit is used to display vehicle information and instrumentation as a sort of head-up display. Instead of being projected onto the windscreen, however, these screens are projected just ahead of the driver so that looking out and over them is natural. These holographic images are projected within the BMW i Inside Future sculpture through microprisms that reflect the light from the emitters and "beam" them into place. The same gesture controls in the other HoloActive Touch are had, but minimized so that the driver's hands never need leave the wheel to interact with the interface.
The BMW Sound Curtain
The "Sound Curtain" is another addition to the BMW i Inside concept that creates personalized "sound areas" within the car. This allows passengers to have separate entertainment options without interfering with one another. One person in their Sound Curtain can watch a movie while another, sitting next to them, can have Sound Curtain encapsulating their music for them.
Housed in the head restraints for each seats, these acoustic envelopes are projected into a small area rather than around the cabin. Those watching movies or interacting online can use a large, fold-down widescreen display that drops out of the headliner. When folded up, the screen becomes a light source for ambient lighting effects. A back-seat tablet or any connected smart device controls the fold-down screen.
With the BMW i Inside Future sculpture, the German automaker is showcasing its latest vision of the automotive future. Like most concepts, many of its innovations are dreamy and will probably not ever be seen in production. But the HoloActive Touch interface appears to be a working prototype at CES, so it may be seen in a production BMW vehicle soon.