BMW has finally revealed some of its plans for next week’s 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, and they include the introduction of a new concept. We’ve previously heard that the concept will be an updated version of the i8 Spyder concept we first saw in 2012, and that could still be the case, though all BMW will say right now is that the focus of the concept will be next-generation interior design and technologies.
Teaser shots revealed today give us an early look at the new interior, which appears to lack physical switches and dials and is instead dominated by a huge screen angled toward the driver but located on the side of the front passenger. Replacing the physical controls is a new technology BMW is calling AirTouch.
AirTouch is an evolution of the gesture control system that debuted in the 2016 BMW 7-Series and enables “intuitive” control of entertainment, navigation and communication functions using simple gestures made with a flat hand. The version in the 7-Series reads finger movements only.
BMW says the sensation of AirTouch is akin to using a touchscreen like on your smartphone but without actually having to make contact with the surface. Special sensors located near the center console monitors hand movements and converts these to instructions for the vehicle. It means the driver can control the main screen even though it’s well out of reach.
This might sound like a complicated new thing to learn--and by the looks of things it will definitely require you to take your eyes off the road--but BMW has made efforts to make AirTouch as simple and intuitive as possible. For example, both the driver and front passenger have their own physical button that they can use to execute a command (on the steering wheel and door armrest, respectively).
This allows one hand to navigate through the menu and the other hand to confirm inputs very quickly. Navigating the various menus has also been made simpler. For example, when activating the phone pad, the system automatically brings up contacts or call lists as the next available option so that a call can be made with just one further action. AirTouch recognizes which selection and control steps are required next and displays them in advance.
BMW hasn’t confirmed AirTouch for production but says that such systems will make more sense as vehicles start to have more autonomous capability.
The 2016 CES runs from January 6-9 in Las Vegas. Hopefully we’ll have more details on BMW’s plans for the show before then. For more CES coverage, head to our dedicated hub.