e-ink display for adaptive car exteriors

January 06, 2022 // By Nick Flaherty
e-ink display for adaptive car exteriors
BMW has developed a technique to apply monochrome e-ink displays to the exterior of a vehicle to change the appearance.

A prototype BMW iX Flow with an adaptive e-ink exterior has been shown for the first time at the CES 2022 how in Las Vegas this week.

The e-ink display panel on the exterior are laser cut as panels to cover the electric Sports Activity Vehicle from BMW. When stimulated by electrical signals, the electrophoretic technology brings different colour pigments to the surface, causing the body skin to take on the desired colouration.

The adaptive display can be used to reduce heating in the vehicle and so reduce the current requirements, increasing range, says BMW. If this is implemented in production, the control of the e-ink display panels will need to be integrated with the battery management system and central controller as well as the user interface if customisation is used.

Despite BMW calling the technology ‘magical’, an interesting future issue is the challenge of hacking the external display panels to form basic letters on the outside of a vehicle. The monochrome panels could also be upgraded to colour, raising regulatory issues of distracting colour schemes on vehicles. However using the panels in automotive designs would dramatically boost the volume production and drive down costs for industrial applications, as well as opening up opportunities for other epaper flexible display makers such as Rdot Displays and Ynvisible in Sweden.    

BMW uses an iterative design process to ensure the segments reflect the characteristic contours of the vehicle and the resulting variations in light and shadow. These generative design algorithms enable the necessary formability and flexibility required to tailor the ePaper panels exactly to the design lines of the vehicle.

Laser cutting technologies guarantee high precision in generating each segment. After the segments are applied and the power supply for stimulating the electrical field is connected, the entire body is warmed and sealed to guarantee optimum and uniform colour reproduction during every colour change.

More CES news 

BMW sees the variable exterior colour a contributing to the wellbeing of the driver and passengers in the interior and to the efficiency of the vehicle. This is done by taking account of the different abilities of light and dark colours when it comes to reflecting sunlight and the associated absorption of thermal energy. A white surface reflects a lot more sunlight than a black one. By implication, heating of the vehicle and passenger compartment as a result of strong sunlight and high outside temperatures can be reduced by changing the exterior to a light colour. In cooler weather, a dark outer skin will help the vehicle to absorb noticeably more warmth from the sun.

In both cases, selective colour changes can help to cut the amount of cooling and heating required from the vehicle's air conditioning. This reduces the amount of energy the vehicle electrical system needs and with it also the vehicle's fuel or electricity consumption. In an electric vehicle, changing the colour in line with the weather can therefore also help to increase the range. In the interior, the technology could, for example, prevent the dashboard from heating up too much.

The e-ink technology itself is energy efficient as it needs no energy to keep the chosen colour state constant and the current only flows during the short colour changing phase.

"The BMW iX Flow is an advanced research and design project and a great example of the forward thinking that BMW is known for," said Adrian van Hooydonk, Head of BMW Group Design.

"This gives the driver the freedom to express different facets of their personality or even their enjoyment of change outwardly, and to redefine this each time they sit into their car," says Stella Clarke, Head of Project for the BMW iX Flow featuring E Ink. "Similar to fashion or the status ads on social media channels, the vehicle then becomes an expression of different moods and circumstances in daily life."

"Digital experiences won't just be limited to displays in the future. There will be more and more melding of the real and virtual. With the BMW iX Flow, we are bringing the car body to life," said Frank Weber, Member of the Board of Management of BMW AG, Development


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