BMW recently unveiled the world's first colour-changing car at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, a proof of concept that could potentially have widespread applications for the auto industry.
The concept car, called the BMW iX Flow, uses E Ink technology to produce fluid colour changes that completely transform the car's exterior into a variety of colours and patterns.
"This is the world's first real colour-changing car. There's been fakes out there, there's been projection mapping, there's been light, but this is really energy efficient colour change using the technology E Ink," explained Stella Clarke, a BMW research engineer.
"It's never been done before so this is a proof of concept. The question we wanted to answer is can we make a colour changing car? And the answer is, 'yes.' And we did it using E Ink. It's the material we know from e-readers, so from Kindles, so it's the reason why you can read your Kindle so nicely in the sun, because it's actual colour-change going on there. So, we took this material -- it's kind of a thick paper -- and our challenge was to get this on a 3D object like our cars," she added.
When stimulated by electrical signals, the E Ink technology brings different colour pigments to the surface, causing the car's body skin to take on the desired effect.
Aside from the jaw-dropping colour and pattern changes, the technology can also help with sustainability and climate control within the vehicle.
"My favorite use case is the use of colour to influence sunlight reflections," said Clarke.
"On a hot, sunny day like today, you could switch the colour white to reflect sunlight. On a cold day, you could switch it black to absorb the heat, support climate control and support sustainability. And the awesome thing about this technology, it's bi-stable, so if you switch it white, take the power off, it stays white, so it doesn't need any energy to hold any given colour," she explained.
The E Ink techonology is also energy efficient, with absolutely no energy needed to maintain the exterior colour the driver selects, according to BMW.
The driver would have the option of changing the colour of the car from within the cabin or by using an app on a phone or even through hand gestures, said Clarke.
The technology is still in its early days and the model displayed at CES had only the option and turning gray and white but in the future this will be expanded to cover a wide colour spectrum, according to BMW.
But is it even legal to change the colour of registered vehicle?
"In terms of legalness, I think this has to be discussed. It's always the case with new technologies, there's just no infrastructure yet for it," said Clarke.
"All we know is that light, you can't put that everywhere on the exterior because it's too distracting and colour change is more subtle than light. But it's still a change in colour, and it's still something that's unexpected. And you notice it with the reactions of the people here, it's not necessarily something that you'd expect. So, we're starting those conversations now and we need to continue them. But hey, that's always the case with innovation," she added.