There are concept cars, and there are concept cars. The former are often thinly disguised versions of upcoming production cars, usually given a fancy grille and wheels, or some unrealistic LED lights to separate them from the production model.
Then there are the high-concept cars, the ones that used to be called dream cars. These are to showcase a technology, maybe, or just show how wacky a company's designers are when they don't have to think about things like crumple zones or cupholders.
The BMW Vision ConnectedDrive that the company will show off at the Geneva Motor Show this year falls squarely into the latter category. The idea behind this technology demonstrator is to expand the concept of "mobile networking" beyond smartphones and iPads to your daily driver.
BMW has already been on the cutting edge of bringing the Internet to your automobile. In Europe, you've been able to get Internet access in your BMW since the middle of the last decade. Here, you need only to plug in your smartphone to brows the Web on your BMW's iDrive system.
But the Vision ConnectedDrive goes several steps beyond that. For example, those skinny outside mirrors aren't mirrors at all. They're antennas that transmit and receive data, such as navigation information. The headlights and taillights include sensors that help monitor traffic. BMW calls this multi-function approach "layering," and it's a concept that's worth looking at. For example, what if your active cruise control sensor was located discreetly in the headlights, instead of behind a weirdly shaped badge in the middle of the nose?
Inside it gets even more futuristic, and I don't mean just the swooping design. Projected onto the windshield is an advanced three-dimensional head-up display. The idea is to integrate the display with information and markers that are projected where they actually are relative to the road. For example, the turn-off arrow from the navigation system wouldn't just be on a map on a dash-mounted LCD, but would actually be projected onto the windshield where the turn was, getting closer as you approached the turn. Other information could also be displayed, with relevance indicated by its position either in the foreground or background.
The passenger becomes more active in the Vision ConnectedDrive, too. In this enhanced co-pilot mode, the passenger can check out navigation details, and even forward them to the driver's display if they're important enough. Then there's the "Emotional Browser." This somehow makes a more arrived and tailored choice of information possible by capturing and filtering addition info about where the car is at a given moment. Exactly what that means is something of a mystery, since BMW doesn't go into a lot of detail about it, and I assume that more details are coming at the show in March.
Of course, none of this would matter if the car were ugly. Thankfully, it's not. I'll admit I have a sweet spot for roadsters, but this one is particularly attractive. The low body and low-slung windshield are both aggressive, and the light band that wraps around the cockpit is striking, whether it's in blue, red or orange.
BMW didn't mention what was under the hood, but clearly the idea here isn't speed or performance, but connectivity. Some of the ideas sound pretty interesting, if a little fantastic. We'll see if any of it ever makes it to a production line.