BMW Vision Next 100 Concept Headlines Centenary Celebration in Munich

Creating the "Ultimate Driver."

BMW is celebrating its 100th anniversary in grand style with a large celebration at the Olympic stadium in Munich, and kicked things off by unveiling of the BMW Vision Next 100 concept car, a vehicle that claims to be able to create the "Ultimate Driver." The concept is one of four slated to be shown this year by BMW Group, which will roll out similar projects from each of its brands, including Mini, Rolls-Royce, and BMW Motorcycles. The concepts are designed to represent the core values of each brand over the next 100 years.

The BMW Vision concept is yet another glimpse at what many view to be the intermediary stage of autonomous driving, where either human or car can take command of the wheel. To that end, a steering wheel is still very much part of the package in "boost" mode. In this mode, a human driver operates the vehicle much as a normal car, though the car's information system is always feeding the driver with details about the outside environment. Alerts via dashboard-mounted triangular lighting signals  (dubbed Alive Geometry by BMW) and a head-up display warn the driver about obstacles, ranging from pedestrians crossing the street to rocks obstructing a canyon road. These systems, BMW says, are an attempt to create the "Ultimate Driver," a smart take on the brand's "Ultimate Driving Machine" moniker.

In what BMW calls "ease" mode, the car takes control and the steering wheel retracts into the dashboard. This leaves the driver free to take conference calls, read, or simply relax while the car navigates traffic.

The cabin of the Vision Next 100 is said to offer comparable space to that of a BMW 7 Series sedan, while the exterior dimensions are closer to a 5 Series. A relatively sleek, sparse interior design is to thank for the roominess. Outside, the signature "kidney" style front grille -- a BMW trademark -- no longer feeds air to an engine, but instead houses various sensors that help to make autonomous driving possible.  The vehicle's drag coefficient is a very low 0.18. Most vehicle components are made from recycled materials, including the bodywork, which is largely made from residues of carbon fiber production.

Despite the hint that a front air intake is not necessary, BMW refuses to divulge what might be powering the concept.

During BMW's press briefing on the Vision Next 100, BMW officials were adamant that the brand cares about giving drivers a choice of whether to be driven autonomously or to take the wheel themselves.

"We truly believe in personal mobility," said BMW design chief Adrian van Hooydonk. "At BMW, we want customers to decide when and how they want to drive."

Don't expect to see the BMW Vision Next 100 concept on a road near you anytime soon. At this stage, it is purely a design exercise.

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