To Celebrate Its Centenary, BMW Unveils Futuristic Zero-Emissions Autonomous Prototype Car

On Monday this week, German luxury automaker BMW turned one hundred years old. Founded when three different manufacturing companies joined forces to become Bayerische Motorenwerke in 1916, the company has undergone some massive changes over its 100-year history, turning out everything from industrial engines to small cars based on the Austin Seven, motorcycles, aircraft engines and of course, the inimitable Isetta bubble car.

Is this what the vehicle of the future will look like?

Is this what the vehicle of the future will look like?

In the past few decades, BMW has become known around the world for its luxury high-performance cars, robust off-road and powerful on-road motorcycles and its smooth, carefully-engineered engines. Most recently, BMW has made a name for itself for the innovative and environmentally friendly BMW i3 electric city car, BMW i3 REx range-extended electric car, and aspirational BMW i8 plug-in hybrid sports coupe.

But what of the next 100 years? To celebrate its first centenary and to look forward to its second, BMW unveiled a futuristic concept car on its 100th birthday which it says encompasses one possible vision of what a future BMW car could look like.

BMW's vision of the future is a super-sleek autonomous zero-emission car.

BMW’s vision of the future is a super-sleek autonomous zero-emission car.

Made of exotic construction materials, the aptly-named BMW Vision Next 100 is packed with technology and reminds us more than a little of the Audi RSQ concept car made famous by the 2004 adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s collection of short stories contained within The Robot Series (I, Robot). With fully-enclosed wheels, the sleek coupe envisages a zero-emission, fully-connected self-driving car that is more personal than any vehicle on the road today.

At this point, we think it’s fair to point out that like any automaker debuting a futuristic concept car, BMW is a little hazy on what makes the BMW Vision Next 100 go. Given the promise of zero-emission capabilities, the hints are that it’s either all-electric, a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, or some other exotic fuel source we haven’t even discovered yet.

Then again, the choice of fuel isn’t as important as the message BMW is clearly working to promote: the days of the internal combustion engine are numbered.

Interestingly though, while BMW is working hard to promote car sharing and ad-hoc car use through many different carsharing programs and collaborations around the world today, it hints that the BMW of the future won’t be some soulless autonomous pod-like vehicle which will dutifully pick you up from work, take you to see friends, or manage the school run.

Instead, BMW’s far-off vision of the future is a car which knows and adapts to its driver, offering rest and relaxation, a mobile office on wheels, or an ultimate driving machine that assists and coaches the person behind the wheel (or rather the control handles in this case) to maximize their driving pleasure.

Being a futuristic autonomous vehicle, the inside of the BMW Vision Next 100 concept is packed to the brims with the latest technology. In addition to an interior which can reconfigure itself automatically depending on the driving mode chosen, there’s a fully interconnected, always-on Internet connection, full personal device integration and even a full-size augmented reality display built into the vehicle’s windshield.

Wheels are fully-enclosed, and there's a fold-away set of driver controls too.

Wheels are fully-enclosed, and there’s a fold-away set of driver controls too.

When being used in ‘Ease’ mode, this vehicle uses these display surfaces to serve for entertainment and information purposes for passengers and driver. During this mode, the steering wheel and centre console completely retract, the headrests turn to the side and the seats and door trim move together to form a ‘single unit’ that makes it possible for the vehicle’s inside to take on a relaxed living-room feel.

When being used in ‘Boost’ mode, the vehicle makes all driving controls accessible to the driver, reconfiguring lighting and seating for maximum focus. Additionally, the augmented reality screen overlays important information about the car’s on-board propulsion system while at the same time indicating the ideal driving line the driver should take.

It’s almost as if BMW’s Vision Next 100 concept bridges the gap between today’s games console racing games and the real world.

As for the name? While “BMW Vision Next 100” is something of a mouthful, we note that BMW doesn’t use the word ‘car’ to describe its latest concept. Instead ‘companion’ is used — a name which suggests that BMW is hoping customers continue to purchase their own vehicles even as car-sharing and customized per-hour mobility becomes more and more popular.

BMW says its Vision Next 100 concept vehicle will be embarking on a worldwide tour in the coming months as part of its official centenary celebrations. In the meantime however, we’re curious as to how close to reality you think BMW’s concept car will be.

Will we be driving around in cars in one hundred years’ time? Will BMW even exist? And what kind of fuels will be powering those cleaner, greener safer and smarter cars of the future?

Leave your thoughts — and your predictions — in the Comments below.


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