Electric signals are used to change the colour of a specially designed wrap.
At this year’s CES in Las Vegas, BMW unveiled a slew of futuristic technologies, the most intriguing of which is a color-changing car. Other projects include a 32-inch cinema screen for rear passengers that extends from the headliner, as well as a variety of sounds designed specifically for its electric models.
The innovations “combine creativity and digitisation to produce great moments for the driver and passengers,” according to the German automaker. At the Las Vegas event, BMW also unveiled the BMW iX M60, a 620hp range-topping EV from its M performance division.
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- The BMW iX Flow can shift between white and black colours
- The principle could improve range of EVs and air conditioning capabilities
- Technology uses no energy to hold on to the colour
Car that changes colours
The BMW iX Flow with E Ink is the world’s first car with an exterior colour that can change at the touch of a button. “By changing the colour of the car, we’re taking personalization to new heights,” said Stella Clarke, project manager. “We also see a lot of advantages in terms of usability and sustainability.”
By considering light and dark colours in relation to reflecting sunlight and thermal energy absorption, changing the colour of the car can make it more efficient. “A white surface reflects a lot more sunlight than a black surface,” BMW explained. The heat generated by strong sunlight and high temperatures in the vehicle and passenger compartment can be reduced by painting the exterior a light colour. A dark outer skin will help the vehicle absorb more heat from the sun in cooler weather. Selective colour changes can help reduce the amount of cooling and heating that the vehicle’s air conditioning is required to provide in both cases. This lowers the amount of energy required by the vehicle’s electrical system, as well as its fuel or electricity consumption.”
This principle may also be used to extend the range of an electric vehicle. The technology itself does not consume any energy in order to maintain the chosen colour. Only during the brief color-changing phase does current flow.
“This is a first try,” Clarke said when asked about a production date. It’s something that’s never been done before. We’re testing it out and hoping to put it into production. We can’t say when it will arrive at the moment.”
What is the mechanism behind it?
The colour changes are made possible by a specially designed body wrap that is tailored to the iX Flow’s contours. Electrophoretic technology, similar to that used in Kindle e-readers, brings different colour pigments to the surface when stimulated by electrical signals, causing the body skin to take on the desired colour.
The custom wrap contains millions of paint capsules with a diameter equal to the thickness of a human hair. Negatively charged white pigments and positively charged black pigments are found in each of these microcapsules. Stimulation with an electrical field causes either the white or black pigments to collect at the surface of the microcapsule, giving the car the desired shade, depending on the setting. This is accomplished by using a large number of precisely fitted electronic paper segments that are designed to reflect the vehicle’s contours as well as variations in light and shadow.
The entire body is warmed and sealed after the segments are applied and the power supply for stimulating the electrical field is connected, according to BMW, to ensure optimum and uniform colour reproduction during every colour change.
Early indications, according to Clarke, show that repairing the technology will not be a major challenge. “It is certainly repairable and not implausible in that regard,” says the expert.