BMW debuted the technology’s automobile application on an iX, the automaker’s brand-new electric SUV. The vehicle’s “paint,” called E Ink, is actually a surface coating that contains millions of microcapsules, each with a diameter equivalent to a single human hair. The microcapsules contain negatively-charged white pigments and positively-charged black pigments that can collect at the coating’s surface depending on the chosen electrical field. (You’re most likely to have encountered E Ink’s color-shifting effect on simpler e-readers, like the Kindle Paperwhite).
BMW prepped the E Ink for the “iX Flow” by laser-cutting the material into a three-dimensional curved screen, which was then used to wrap the SUV. “The car dresses you, it expresses you—not just from the inside but from the outside—so we have tried to create a technology and adapted it to the car that allows you to do that,” said Christoph Grote, senior vice president of electronics at BMW Group, in a roundtable.
E Ink’s capabilities currently limit the iX Flow’s color palette to black, white, and gray. But even these three options carry significant potential. Anyone who’s ever failed to find a shaded parking space knows that white surfaces reflect a lot more sunlight than black surfaces, which absorb that light—and therefore heat—instead. In the middle of summer, white “paint” may help to thermoregulate the vehicle’s interior better than its darker alternative; in the winter, a black surface may help keep the interior warm. This benefits both passenger comfort and efforts to conserve the vehicle’s electric charge.
For those concerned, E Ink itself is energy-efficient. The coating’s microcapsules only consume energy during the color-shifting process and don’t require energy in order to maintain a chosen color (unlike pixels, if we’re still using the e-reader analogy). BMW hasn’t touched on E Ink’s durability as it relates to auto accessorization; those who attended CES (or tuned in from home) have wondered whether E Ink can survive car washes and inclement weather.
Now that you’re excited to own a color-changing car, pump the brakes: BMW referred to the iX Flow as a “advanced research and design project,” which is a complicated way of saying it’s just a prototype for now. But hey, every mainstream gadget has to start somewhere, right?
This content was originally published here.