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CES 2017: We sample BMW's interior of the future

Holograms, airbone vibrations and moss-filled libraries for future-gen BMWs

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If those zany futurists and their crystal balls are to be believed, in the future we will no longer drive cars, but be driven around in car-like pods.

Now, as much as we try and hold back the tide of autonomous driving tech, it’s flooding the market. But what would car interiors look like when you no longer need to do the car-y bit? Well, wonder no more as BMW has given us an insight at this year’s CES show.

It’s called the BMW i Inside Future concept and looks like a well-read stoner’s paradise. As you can see, it has a library and some rather suspect looking shrubbery growing under the rear bench. But aside from these – and the very cool Eames-like chairs and roof-mounted head rests – this airy cockpit is all about showing off a new technology: HoloActive Touch.

It’s an evolution of BMW’s Gesture Control system that allows you to swoop and swish your hands around like Tom Cruise in Minority Report instead of having to physically press buttons. 

HoloActive Touch will ditch the traditional dashboard in favour of a massive floating display that stretches across the cabin. If you want to interact with it or change something like the radio station, instead of dealing with messy, complicated buttons you use your hand movements to react with a hologram display.

A camera detects the hand movements and registers the position of fingertips, in particular. As soon as a fingertip makes contact with one of the virtual menu options, a pulse is emitted and the relevant action is activated. You’ll know you’ve made a selection thanks to feedback from an airborne vibrating pulse. Spooky.

And we tried it out. What might seem a gimmick – tech for tech’s sake – is actually jolly good to use. You can see the benefit of a confident prod into the air, within your line of sight, rather than a confused search for a button as you drive.

The hologram is provided by a series of clever mirrors, and can only be seen by the driver. As well as displaying buttons to press, it can also beam a video call if you want to keep it private from your passengers (speakers within the seats ensure sound won’t be shared, either).

The pulsing touch, meanwhile, comes from 300 or so tiny speakers that bounce a slightly tickly bunch of soundwaves towards your finger. Cost may be a barrier between it reaching cars soon, but the tech itself feels ready.

Lots about the i Inside Future is spookily clever. Our demo saw us ‘drive’ to a football match via some screens. When a friend on Facebook asked for a lift, the car sensed it and asked if we wanted to go pick him up. When another friend called with a problem, the car heard the conversation and routed us to a shop to fix it. When that made us late for the match, the screens started playing a live feed of the football so we didn’t miss too much.

Overall, it felt like a classy application of future tech, rather than a large gimmick. Quite how happy you’d be having the car’s artificial intelligence listening to your calls and trawling your social media is another matter, mind.

The interior, meanwhile, is hugely roomy and comfortable, and we get the sense we’d be happy leaving it to drive itself most of the time. Not least because this BMW i is ginormous, and those enclosed wheels don’t look like they’d provide the fun-filled rear-drive experience BMWs past have provided.

Oh, and the moss? It’s designed to ‘start the discussion’ about more sustainable materials in cars, and ones which actively improve the space inside of them. The fact BMW’s CES show stand helpers had to keep hoovering up rogue shrubbery showed one downside…

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