In the not-so-distant future, we might be zooming around in mobile living rooms programmed to deliver us to our destinations sans driver. Unveiled at BMW’s NEXTGen event, the MINI Vision Urbanaut is a self-driving cabin on wheels with three pre-programmed modes designed to suit particular core “moments”: Chill, Wanderlust, and Vibe. The interior and exterior of the car transform accordingly with sound, scent, ambient light, and a highly flexible layout.
In “Chill” mode, the autonomous concept becomes a retreat so you can relax or work in the midst of your journey, or once you’ve arrived. The bright, spacious interior features seating that slides, rotates, or folds down on demand so all passengers can face forward, backward, or inward towards each other. When the car is stationary, the dashboard lowers to create a comfortable seating corner the designers call the “daybed,” and the windshield fully opens to the outdoors to offer a “balcony.”
The bright and airy central section of the car includes a small integrated table with a plant opposite from the sliding entrance door. Deeper into the vehicle, in the rear section, is the darker “cozy corner,” featuring generous seating and LED backlighting. In “Wanderlust” mode, the car is set up to be driven, either by the occupant or using automated driving functions. Visual imagery inspired by 1960s travel posters appears on the screens along with information about attractions and arrival times.
“Vibe” mode is made for entertaining, and turns the car into the perfect hub for an outdoor party. The central circular instrument transforms into an entertainment center complete with graphic equalizers projected onto the walls, and users can select from various club-like lighting effects. You switch between the three modes by placing the key fob in the appropriate slot.
“Intuitive, discreet user interface solutions allow conventional controls such as switches or buttons to be omitted,” reads a BMW press release on the concept. “This creates a minimalist, cozy spatial experience while maintaining full connectivity. The principle of making things as simple as possible to use (‘natural interaction’) is highlighted by the ‘analogue,’ tactile, haptic experience of initiating a feature, e.g. the direct touch operation option in the Loop over the rear seat bench. The circular instrument is now positioned in the middle of the car – the new centre of the action – and brings information to the place where people meet.”
The Vision Urbanaut is just as cozy and compact as you’d expect from MINI, with a frame that’s taller than the carmaker’s usual dimensions to resemble more of a minivan in shape. The designers used augmented reality and wooden scale models to develop the interior before working on the exterior to achieve what they call the brand’s signature “clever use of space.”
“In 1959, the very first Mini ushered in a small-scale revolution in vehicle construction with its transversely mounted engine,” recalls Oliver Heilmer, Head of MINI Design. “With the MINI Vision Urbanaut we have been able to rethink and increase the usable surface area inside the car even further in relation to its footprint.”
As of yet, there’s no physical model of the MINI Vision Urbanaut, so it’s hard to assess just how realistic or workable this design really is. But NEXTGen is really more of a creative playground for exploring the future of mobility, and it’s cool to see what car designers are envisioning for the decades to come.