Evolution of a revolution
Design 29.02.2024 3 Min.
Evolution of a revolution.

The BMW i5 Flow NOSTOKANA impressively demonstrates how the latest evolutions in colour-change technology brings art to life on a vehicle.

When you buy a car, you have to decide on a body colour. Every place you drive through, whatever the season, your vehicle’s appearance remains the same. While your own mood changes as you go, the exterior of your car does not. What if you could choose a different colour and pattern every day and adapt your BMW vehicle to your current mood, or even the weather conditions? The latest evolutionary stage of colour-change technology opens up unique, unprecedented opportunities for individualisation in exterior design.

Within just a few years, the BMW Group has developed and rapidly advanced E Ink technology to be able to generate dynamic colour changes on the surface of vehicle bodies. From the very start, this revolutionary new design attracted worldwide attention and enthusiastic reactions from public and experts alike. The BMW Group has received numerous innovation awards for the project it calls Flow. The company has been rapidly developing the technology since its first public appearance.

January 2022: World premiere for a magical colour change.

The BMW Group presented the BMW iX Flow featuring E Ink for the first time at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2022 in Las Vegas. The vehicle changed its entire exterior colour from black to white and back again at the touch of a button. The principle of colour change – the physical phenomenon of electrophoresis – is based on a technology developed by the E Ink Corporation and used in a similar form in e-book readers.

The surface coating of the BMW iX Flow featuring E Ink contains several million micro cups, each with a diameter no thicker than a human hair. Each of these micro cups contains negatively charged white and positively charged black pigments. Depending on the setting that has been selected, an electrical impulse ensures that either the white or the black pigments collect on the surface of the micro cups, giving the bodywork its chosen colour. A fascinating side effect: the technology is extremely efficient, as it takes no electricity to maintain the colour state. 

May 2022: The colour changes as quickly as lightning.

Just four months after the world premiere, the company presented the next iteration of this spectacular innovation. In a mere four months, the team led by Australian BMW Group engineer and project manager Stella Clarke has improved the technology so that the colour can be switched in a flash. While the changeover could previously only happen in a smooth transition, the new rapid colour change is even more impressive.

Beyond this experience, the technology offers numerous potential fields of application, for example to improve the vehicle’s energy efficiency. A white surface reflects sunlight significantly more than a black one, meaning the interior heats up less. Changing colour could therefore reduce energy consumption in the future, improving the range of the all-electric BMW iX.

January 2023: E Ink technology becomes colourful – and with it the vehicle.

With the BMW i Vision Dee, the BMW Group presented a multi-coloured version of the E Ink technology on the outer surface of a vehicle at CES 2023. Instead of alternating between black and white, this vehicle featured a colourful and customisable exterior. The colour particles moving in the micro cups are yellow, cyan, magenta and white and can display up to 32 different colours in the ePaper film that has been applied to the body. The BMW i Vision Dee surface is divided into 240 individually controllable E Ink segments, from which an almost infinite variety of patterns can be generated and varied within a few seconds. This technology remains unique in the automotive sector today.

February 2024: New art created from a fusion of high-tech and tradition.

The art of the South African Esther Mahlangu and in particular the Art Car #12, a BMW 525i she designed in 1991, were an important source of inspiration for project manager Stella Clarke in further developing the colour-change technology. The modern, progressive design of the new BMW 5 Series – with its clear, minimalist design language yet generously proportioned exterior surfaces – offered itself as a “canvas” for the complex play of colours and shapes of Esther Mahlangu’s work, and also to continue the tradition of the Art Car #12 with a BMW 5 Series. From the very beginning, when dynamic colour changes on the bodywork were nothing more than an evolving idea, the characteristic art elements in Esther Mahlangu’s work motivated development engineer Stella Clarke to think about implementing them using E Ink technology. This led to the next spectacular concept car, which combines inspiration and innovation in a completely new way: the BMW i5 Flow NOSTOKANA was presented to the world public at the Frieze Los Angeles art fair in February 2024. NOSTOKANA is actually the name of Esther Mahlangu’s first-born son. It is a tribute to the South African artist and the Art Car she designed.

The latest evolutionary stage of E Ink technology enables an unlimited number of animations, as the foiling can now be segmented in a completely new way. As such, the surface of the BMW i5 Flow NOSTOKANA is divided into 1,349 segments, each of which can be individually controlled and animated. Thanks to the extremely high resolution achieved by millions of micro cups in the numerous film segments, Esther Mahlangu’s art dazzles in full colour and with all its intricate, detailed patterns. An extraordinary sound, composed especially for the BMW i5 Flow NOSTOKANA by Renzo Vitale, Creative Director Sound at the BMW Group, accompanies the dynamic colour changes. For example, the sound mix combines Esther Mahlangu’s voice with the sounds her feathers make as she draws.

The BMW i5 Flow NOSTOKANA is the first E Ink concept vehicle that has been developed to withstand different climatic conditions. It therefore has the potential to further extend the innovation leadership that the BMW Group is showing in the field of colour-change technology.

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