Digitalisation will continue to bring disruptive changes to the automotive industry, said BMW head of development Klaus Fröhlich at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show (CES) on Tuesday.
These disruptions include the fact that information technology will offer customers greater convenience and safety – initially through driver assistance systems and then, in the more distant future, through fully autonomous cars.
Drivers also increasingly expect their vehicles to connect with their smartphones or homes.
Both these trends will open up new possibilities for how consumers use and experience car interiors and user interfaces.
“Digitalisation will open up the automotive industry to new competition,” admitted Fröhlich. “I can assure you, the BMW Group welcomes competition! It has always made us stronger.”
A number of traditional technology companies, such as Google, through its development of a self-driving car, has in recent years moved into the automotive industry.
To support his argument that BMW was up for the challenge, Fröhlich unveiled the i Vision Future Interaction concept vehicle.
“This is a concept with a strong emotional appeal. I think we at BMW are pretty good at building cars like this – and creating emotional products will be even more important in the future.”
While strong on looks, the BMW concept vehicle’s primary focus is on how the German manufacturer can integrate the car into its customers’ mobile and digital lifestyle.
“What are the challenges we face in day-to-day driving?,” noted Fröhlich. “Heavy traffic, stress and time pressure are often the downside of today’s mobility. How can we make our customers’ lives easier, more convenient and safer, and retain the fun factor of mobility?
“The answer does not lie in any single solution. It takes a smart combination of different concepts and offerings. For this reason, we developed a personalised digital companion for our customers. We call it ‘BMW Connected’ – an intelligent approach that organises our customers’ mobility in a flexible and simple way.”
BMW Connected links personal data, physical devices and various services in an intelligent way to create a new and seamless customer experience. It is based on something called the Open Mobility Cloud, and processes data and information from various sources.
However, the system does not only process this data, it also learns from the user’s behaviour, habits and preferences – acting a little but like a digital butler.
This allows BMW Connected to offer customised solutions for the driver’s daily routine, displaying the information on various output devices, such as a smartphone, watch or interactive mirror.
It means BMW Connected can create individualised mobility proposals to the driver, with the data updated on an ongoing basis.
“When I get behind the wheel, the navigation is already programmed with the ideal route, the car cooled or heated according to the weather,” explains Fröhlich. “Parking options at the destination are displayed and can be reserved.
“BMW Connected also takes the surroundings that might be relevant into account, such as preferred shopping, a restaurant or a store that has already been searched for online.
“Real-time data from the cloud opens up almost endless possibilities.”
Fröhlich also took the time to unveil BMW’s next phase of gesture interaction vehicle – Air-Touch Display.
This feature allows for control over a car’s entertainment, navigation and communication systems, using simple gestures made with a flat hand.
AirTouch allows the display in a vehicle to be operated like a touchscreen without actually having to make contact with the surface, using sensors that record hand movements.
BMW Motorrad utilised this year’s CES to present its concept motorcycle helmet using head-up display, a technology that has been available as an option in the manufacturer’s cars since 2003.
The display projects road and traffic data directly into the rider's field of view. This means the rider is able to concentrate on the road as he or she no longer has to glance at the instrument panel.
The display options include safety-relevant information, for instance data relating to the technical status of the motorcycle, such as tyre pressure, oil level and fuel level, travel speed and selected gear, speed limit and road sign recognition, plus warnings of impending dangers.
The heads-up display helmet also offers a number of possibilities to increase the thrill of riding a motorbike.
For instance, an action camera pointing forwards, located inside the helmet, can record video footage of the journey. A second camera, oriented towards the rear, can, at some point in the future, perform the function of a digital rear-view mirror.
And, last but not least, this technology also enables the rider to see where his companions are at any given moment.
The helmet, also fitted with an integrated mini-computer and loudspeakers, is controlled from the left-hand handlebar, using the BMW Motorrad multicontroller.
The operating time of the system, which uses two replaceable batteries, is around five hours.
BMW hopes to develop this technology to series-production level “within the next few years”.