Let’s say you love the look of a black car, but hate how much it heats up at the peak of summer. What if you could literally press a button and watch the color shift to sunlight-reflecting white, then back again whenever you felt like it? That’s what BMW has envisioned for a concept version of its iX electric SUV, a carbon fiber family powerhouse full of futuristic features like an octagonal steering wheel, freestanding high-resolution curved display, and built-in 5G connection. The color-changing effect is achieved with the very same E Ink that’s used to make e-readers like the Amazon Kindle look like real ink on paper.
The entire vehicle is wrapped in segments of laser-cut electronic paper that contains millions of microcapsules about the diameter of a human hair. The capsules in turn contain negatively charged white pigments and positively charged black pigments, and when you press a button, an electric field is activated and the pigments respond accordingly, raising either the white or black ones to the surface. BMW imagines this effect as an extension of the customization that’s already possible in its vehicles, like the “My Modes” that allow the driver to tailor the experience in the interior to their mood or the driving experience they seek.
Most of the fun comes from the ability to watch the color shift in real time. First demonstrated at the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the technology has that exciting nearly-magical sense of novelty about it. When the car is set to white, you can faintly see the triangular segments of electronic paper as a subtle pattern. As it’s shifting, the color moves across the vehicle from one side to the other. Plus, in addition to pure black and white, various shades of gray in between can be achieved.
“This gives the driver the freedom to express different facets of their personality or even their enjoyment of change outwardly, and to redefine this each time they sit in their car,” says Stella Clarke, Head of Project for the BMW iX Flow featuring E Ink. “Similar to fashion or the status ads on social media channels, the vehicle then becomes an expression of different moods and circumstances in daily life.”
Finding the exact shade you love most on this spectrum is a cool feature, but BMW says the color-changing effect has functional qualities, too. Selective color changes according to the outside temperature can help cut the amount of cooling and heating required from the vehicle’s air conditioning, which reduces the amount of energy its electric system needs to produce. That means changing the color can boost the range you get on a single charge. The E ink technology is also highly energy efficient, requiring no energy to keep the chosen color state constant. The electrical current only flows during the color-changing phase.
Though the press release makes it sound like this technology is ready to roll out on current or near-future production models, BMW actually has no plans to offer it anytime soon. Instead, it’s supposed to just be a demonstration of the German automaker’s commitment to innovation and creativity – but maybe that will change in the future if there’s enough demand.