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That’s a Horse of a Different Color

BMW Color Changing Car
Photo Credit: Will Sabel Courtney

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Author: Abigail Blythe Batton

When Dorothy and her ragtag team of misfits finally arrived in the Emerald City, in the movie, The Wizard of Oz, they were escorted through the gates on a carriage attached to a horse that changed color as it walked.

This special effect had never been seen before. In fact, when Mervyn LeRoy produced The Wizard of Oz in 1939, no one had ever seen a color film before. The entire production cost $2.7 million, which, made it the most expensive film produced to date.

That film, and the horse it rode in on, became an iconic jewel in film history. But no one could predict that some 80 years later, engineers from one of the more posh car manufacturers would attempt to replicate the color-changing horse on a new car model. And they would do it on an $8 million dollar budget.

But in January of this year, Oliver Zipse, Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW AG, traveled from Germany to America’s playground, Las Vegas and revealed the BMW “Neue Klasse” or “New Class” of a car at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES). It was there, in front of an eager audience, that BMW introduced the world to Dee.

Dee, which stands for Digital Emotional Experience, is special in many ways, among them, her ability to change color. Dee, BMW’s car of the future can change its color in up to 32 variations.

This type of technology feels more wizardly than engineered. But in a press release, the company explained, “I Vision Dee represents a significant evolution of the E Ink color-shifting technology.”  

The technology does not limit the car to shift into one cohesive color, from black to pink, for example. Dee’s “skin” is made from an electronic paper that acts like a film. The company that created the technology, E Ink has marketed their brainpower on smaller apparatus like e-readers and cell phones.

It’s a complicated feat that involves millions of tiny microcapsules, each with different color pigments that change shades when electricity is applied. Essentially, Dee’s body is coated in microscopic color chips that can be programmed by the owner to display mood and personality. They can appear as blocks of color, stripes and even specified shapes.

Among other implications, the I Vision Dee will finally solve the color conflicts that occur in every car dealership lot. “I want white, but my husband wants red” type of thing. Now one car can be both.

Not only does the exterior change color in thousands of variations, but the car’s owner can also create an avatar that can be projected on the driver’s side window. Having a bad hair day? Let the avatar take care of that for you.

But Zipse’s revelations didn’t stop at the gobsmacking color-shifting car. DEE also talks to the driver. The automaker said, “This means the BMW I Vision Dee can talk to people and, at the same time, express moods such as joy, astonishment, or approval visually.”

BMW displayed its “Mixed Reality Slider” which allows the driver to decide how much augmentation she wants during her driving experience. 

At its bread-and-butter position, the car will display the usual suspects on the windshield: temperature, speed, and the state of the charge. But should the driver want more interaction from Dee, she can dial up and have full use of extra information including social media feeds and, one day, digital projections of realities created by really smart engineers playing around with pixels and art. In other words, the windshield will eventually be able to display virtual scenery.

The interactive screen will be limited to use only when the car is in automatic mode, meaning self-driven. And while this may seem decades away, when MBW revealed this concept car in January, it hinted that many of the features, certainly the color-changing ones, would be available by 2025. Zipse boasted that Dee, “will bring humans and machines closer together.”

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