SAN FRANCISCO -- The BMW Flow electric SUV concept can change hues at the press of a button, going from white to gray or black, and back again in moments. While it can't go beyond shades of gray and, even at that, it lacks the subtlety and depth of real car paint, the effect is startling.
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The trick isn't done with paint at all, but with specially formed wrapping cut to fit the SUV's body panels. The wrapping has the same sort of e-ink technology used in electronic readers. The colored panels were cut precisely to match the shape of the SUV's body panels and then electric wiring is attached to each section.
The panel surfaces have millions of tiny capsules, each one containing negatively charged white pigments and positively charged black pigments. Electric currents bring one pigment or the other to the surface creating the different shades. Once the color change is completed, the panels keep their tone without needing any more electrical charge.
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The SUV can be colored all one shade or different shades in different parts. Even the wheels can change colors.
Adrian van Hooydonk, BMW's head of design, described the BMW iX Flow concept as "an advanced research and design project."
BMW has not announced any plans to bring this sort of technology to a production vehicle.
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The automaker did cite certain advantages to being able to change the tone of a vehicle at a moment's notice, though.
First, you might just feel like it.
"This gives the driver the driver the ability to express different facets of their personality or even their enjoyment of change outwardly, and to redefine this each time they sit in their car," said Stella Clarke, project leader for the iX Flow, in a statement from BMW.
Secondly, it can make the vehicle more fuel-efficient and comfortable. On hot days, a white body could reflect heat, keeping the cabin a more comfortable temperature and lessening the need for air conditioning. Conversely, a black body absorbs more heat and help keep the cabin warm on cold days, reducing the need for heat and ventilation.
On the other hand, were it to make it into production, the cost of body damage repairs could be just as striking as the color effects.
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