Choosing a car colour isn’t just about personal preference; there are other, more practical factors that come into play. Dirt stands out on a light-coloured car, while a vehicle painted a darker shade can become extremely hot inside as it absorbs sunlight on a warm summer day. BMW imagines a future where no one has to choose — changing the colour of your car can happen in an instant by leveraging the same low-power screen technology that ebook readers use.
Calling the customised BMW iX Flow the company revealed at CES 2022 today a giant rolling Amazon Kindle isn’t entirely accurate. For starters, it doesn’t have access to the Amazon online ebook store, nor does it have a soft glowing backlight making the vehicle stand out in a crowded parking lot at night. It does, however, feature an outer wrap made from E Ink’s electronic paper display technology, which uses tiny microcapsules of coloured ink that rise or sink to change their visibility and produce specific colours, as well as complicated patterns and designs, almost instantly. If you want to know more about the unique display technology, check out our detailed explainer of E Ink here.
The first consumer devices using E Ink’s colour electronic paper were released in late 2020, but BMW isn’t taking advantage of that technology just yet. For now the upgraded BMW iX Flow relies on black and white electronic paper to adjust the vehicle’s external finish from darker to brighter. It’s a neat trick, but also a practical way to improve the vehicle’s efficiency. On a hot summer day the vehicle’s finish can be flipped to white to reflect the sun’s rays and help keep the interior cooler with less demand on the air conditioner, while in the cold winter flipping it to black would have the opposite effect, absorbing heat from the sun helping to naturally keep the vehicle warmer inside.
Gas-powered cars already produce plenty of heat as a by-product of combustion that’s used to warm a vehicle, but an electric car needs to solely rely on heaters to keep occupants warm which can be very power-hungry. An electric car that’s able to absorb sunlight could, at least in theory, help extend the vehicle’s battery life and range.
Will we see E Ink-wrapped vehicles debuting any time soon? Probably not. Fixing an unsightly paint scratch on a vehicle is easy enough, but fixing a damaged electronic paper panel is considerably more challenging and expensive. When we eventually take human drivers out of the equation on public roads this idea might be more feasible, but it probably won’t take long for advertisers to clue in and inevitably turn every E Ink-wrapped autonomous vehicle into a rolling billboard plastered in rotating advertisements.