January 23, 2022

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BMW made a car that can change colors

Yep, this is cool.


BMW

This story is part of CES, where CNET covers the latest news on the most incredible tech coming soon.

Right now, changing a car’s exterior color involves a traditional painting process. But what if you could do it at the touch of a button? That’s a feature BMW is investigating with the help of E Ink technology, and the German automaker brought a color-changing prototype car to CES 2022 this week.

Dubbed the iX Flow, this electric SUV prototype uses the electrophoretic technology found in E Ink to change its exterior color almost immediately. How’s it work? The iX has a special wrap that brings different color pigments to the surface via electrical stimulation. The color-changing effect can go from front to back, side to side, in stripes, in blotches and so on. The E Ink wrap allows for this adjustability.


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E Ink implementation has two key benefits. First, it opens the door for a whole new world of customization, allowing owners to change their vehicle’s color and design based on mood, scenario or whatever. The car “becomes an expression of different moods and circumstances in daily life,” said Stella Clarke, the iX Flow’s project manager. Right now, though, the only colors are black, white and gray, which is fine if your “different moods and circumstances in daily life” involved feeling bummed on a rainy day. (I can relate.)

The other benefit? Increased efficiency. On hot, sunny days, white cars will stay cooler than black ones because they reflect more sunlight. Similarly, on cold days, dark exterior colors help the car absorb more sunlight, and therefore more heat. BMW says this can reduce the amount of heating or cooling needed to condition the car on hot or cold days, which will improve its overall operating efficiency even if the difference is slight.

E Ink technology is the same stuff used in e-reader tablets, and the iX Flow’s wrap is made of e-paper segments. That’s why the iX can only change colors on the grayscale, but as E Ink tech evolves to include more vibrant colors (hopefully), so too can the iX Flow. After all, it’s just a concept — cool as it is, there’s no telling if BMW will ever bring color-changing body panels to production.

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