Las Vegas, Nevada – BMW calls this the i Inside Future sculpture; in effect, it’s a mock-up of the interior of a possible future car, freed from the restraints of packaging it inside the bodyshell of a concept.
And, appropriately, it’s on display at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where it will be seen by some of the most techno-savvy people in the United States.
There’s also a new 5 Series sedan, that’s been fitted with a wide range of near-production autonomous technology, in which show visitors will be able to go for a drive and hand over both steering and pedal control for at least part of the route.
Given that within the foreseeable future most, if not all, cars will drive themselves at least some of the time, the sculpture has been built to explore what we will be able to do in the those cars when we’re not needed at the wheel.
It previews the kind of experience a car journey will offer, and how we will interact with the car – whether we are helping it decide what route to follow for the least traffic congestion, or just choosing which video to watch.
It also underlines BMW’s philosophy that there should be conflict between personalisation and sharing, just as we share our personal take on the spaces we live in when we invite people into our homes.
It features a number of new products and services adapted for fully autonomous driving, while intelligent connectivity between vehicles, drivers and the outside world enables us to make the best use of the time it frees up (and don’t kid yourself; for the wired generation, time is already the most precious commodity in their lives) by seamlessly integrating the car’s functions with our digital lives.
But perhaps the most startling feature of this open-platform (if you’ll forgive the pun) technology demonstrator is HoloActive Touch, a mind-boggling meld of head-up display and gesture control without physical contact.
A free-floating virtual display, projected in the area above the centre console, is operated directly by finger movements, while an ultrasound source provides tactile confirmation of your command, much like the little buzz you get from your smartphone when it switches on – but without physical contact!
For instance, BMW envisages it syncing with the navigation system so that you can access information about a place or building as the car drives past it, by simply pointing a finger at it.
It also features an in-car application of Microsoft’s Cortana voice-controlled personal assistant, which already makes available a wide range of services on PC and tablet. It could, for example, remind you about an upcoming appointment while en route, even though the venue hasn’t been decided yet – or recommend a restaurant for dinner afterwards and book a table.