The key element in the car of the future? Not what you’d expect – it’s textiles

Munich – A few weeks ago we shared a first look at BMW’s Vision iNEXT, a mostly automated and emission-free small SUV coming out in 2021. Our key takeaway was that, for a car that showcases some of the most advanced automotive technology the market has ever seen, the proposal resembled that most primal and traditional of places: the warm and welcoming home.

That’s why one of the key elements in the iNEXT is not tech, but textile – albeit through an integrated application that ingeniously conceals intelligent automated features that become visible only when necessary. With their proprietary Shy Tech, a series of gestures in the back area can activate controls usually located in the dashboard.

As this near-future of mobility is uncharted territory for both automakers and the residential industry – the car is very much a new typology of its own, a sort of living space on wheels – we discussed the wider implications of these material decisions with Claudia Geidobler, the head of BMW i Colour and Trim Design.

We keep hearing reports that millennials don’t see the value in purchasing a car and that it is no longer an object of desire or conspicuous consumption for that age group. Has that mindset influenced any of your material decisions for the iNEXT?
We wanted to provide a homely and safe feeling, to create an environment where you meet friends. A material mix of cloth and wood provides a high-quality, furniture-like appearance. The inside of the car is awash with warm, welcoming colours, such as the nude shade Purus Rosé, Brown and Beige, with accents in metallic shimmering Mystic Bronze. The rear compartment is dominated by the petrol-coloured Enlighted Cloudburst cloth upholstery with its handwoven Jacquard weave, which runs asymmetrically across the seat area and extends into the side panelling and parcel shelf. This creates a visual separation of the cockpit and the back that produces the effect of different furnishings in an apartment.

Above, the textile elements that make the iNEXT's Shy Tech possible; below, Geidobler (right) joined by BMW i Colour and Trim designer Charlotte Kanters.

Speaking of apartment aesthetics, why was it important for you to have an artisanal material like handwoven Jacquard in the vehicle?
Generally, Jacquards give a great creative freedom, because you can weave a Jacquard very fine but also very coarse, so it is possible to use the textile for different areas – they are used often in the automotive industry but also in the fashion industry. For this Vision Car, we have connected traditional Jacquard with state-of-the-art technology named Shy Tech, which stays in the background and out of sight and is only deployed when needed or at the driver’s or passengers’ request.

This new aesthetic unites traditional craftsmanship and modern technology, and thus tells a story of digitisation

At the same time, the Jacquard weaving technique – that is, with a web cartridge – is programmed much like a pixel screen. Every thread that appears on the surface is representative of a pixel. It is, so to speak, the original form of image programming. Individual threads or pixels are replaced by optical fibers, so that the UI or the light can be transported to the surface. The mixture of physical fabric pixels and animated points of light leads to this new aesthetic. It unites traditional craftsmanship and modern technology and thus tells a story of digitisation.

The Jacquard fabric in the back wakes up to touch and allows the control of music playback through various gestures, which are visually highlighted by illuminated LEDs under the fabric. For starters, the finger draws a note directly onto the fabric, and the volume can be easily and intuitively controlled by opening and closing two fingers.

Above, the textile differentiation between the front and rear areas; below, an overall view of the iNEXT.

What criteria did you have in mind for the backrest-armrest function of the front seats? How do you take material attrition into account when you’re basically inventing a new type of seating category?
The front seat head restraints can be folded back, allowing the people in the front to communicate more effectively with the passengers in the rear. Here we selected a microfiber, which is a very resilient material in the BMW Vision iNext.

Overall, this car is meant to be seen as a sort of living space, and living spaces are where disasters happen. How is the fabric made resistant to… well, living?
Of course! Well, the BMW Vision iNext is a showcar, and the fabric was developed especially for it. As soon as a fabric like this enters mass production in an automotive industry, it needs to fulfill all the requirements for cleaning and wear.

bmw.com

In 2021, Sheer Driving Pleasure will be reimagined in the form of the series-production BMW iNEXT, which will take the BMW Group’s strategic innovation fields (“D+ACES”) onto the road for the first time in a single package.

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