CES 2023: BMW’s i Vision Dee Layers Futuristic Tech onto a Retro Form

A glimpse at the brand's precise but friendly future design language

With the intention of creating a stronger emotional connection between a driver and their vehicle, BMW‘s i Vision Dee—unveiled at CES 2023 last week—proposes a direction that has retro-future charm akin to Knight Rider‘s KITT and Herbie the Love Bug, both of which graced the stage of BMW’s press conference. While many see a tech-forward future as potentially clinical and isolating, the electric-powered i Vision Dee offers a take on car design and driver experience that’s imbued with humanity.

by Josh Rubin

While “Dee” is the car’s AI persona, it’s also an acronym for Digital Emotional Experience and sets the direction of BMW’s forthcoming Neue Klasse EV line-up. It represents the future of the carmarker and all the advancements that are still to come. “Everybody feels the need for change. Everybody wants it,” says BMW design director Adrian van Hooydonk. “That change that I’m talking about, it’s going to happen for all vehicles in three years, which means we’re doing it all right now.”

The vehicle features full-windshield augmented reality and exterior communication panels in the nose, tail and side window frames that use E-ink to mix decorative graphics and important information cues. Those cues, however, are not literal text and arrows, they’re more akin to facial expressions and include descriptive graphical animations. It’s Dee’s aforementioned head-up display that really connects the car with its driver and passengers, though. And as Stephan Durach, senior vice president at BMW Group, says, it’s not just a gimmick. “I don’t want to build a product that’s just demonstrating ‘I can master this technology’ without any meaning. It’s not a good idea,” he tells us. “It’s only a really good idea if you solve a real-life problem.”

by Josh Rubin

Utilizing what BMW calls “shy tech,” the car’s seemingly sparse dashboard quickly transforms into an instrument panel that offers four different levels of digital content. There’s standard driving and navigation information, social features including calls and texts, augmented projection and—at its most futuristic—entry into a virtual world. Visuals are also projected on the side windows of the car when appropriate. As you walk up to it, an avatar appears that recognizes and welcomes you and its eyes even follow you as you move.

It’s not the goal to make everybody happy, then it gets boring. If you only do compromises, [the result] is wrong for everybody.

BMW intends for Dee to be more than just a car; it will be an intelligent companion. But different people want different types of companions—and various individuals may drive the very same car—so the key for the team at BMW was finding a balance between consistency and nuance. “You cannot build a user interface, from the design perspective, which is free of the brand,” Durach explains. But, he adds, “It’s not the goal to make everybody happy, then it gets boring. If you only do compromises, [the result] is wrong for everybody.” Ultimately the team created an interface that is precise, approachable and offers “some small surprising things” with meaningful touches, he says.

by Josh Rubin

A second version of i Vision Dee was presented as a follow-up to last year’s E-ink exterior debut, this time with the ability to render 32 different colors with solid, patterned and animated options. Still using ultra low-power consumptive technology, the color E-ink works a bit like a CMYK printer with each dot able to display some or all of those base colors in a manner where the mix creates new shades and values. While still a prototype, it provokes a vision for the future and a dialog that’s admirable.

by Josh Rubin

All the technology aside, the i Vision Dee is also an exciting promise for the future of BMW’s exterior design language. The car’s proportions and stance are a solid reference to their ’70s classics and a refreshing direction from the current sanitized vehicle line-up. As van Hooydonk explains, the design team’s belief in “keeping the flame burning and don’t end up worshiping the ashes” is a way to bring the past into the future. He continues to explain, “The game has not changed. Our job as designers is to look for the impossible, to look for the edge.” We’re excited to see how this philosophy, paired with a human-centered approach, will bring the concepts from the i Vision D into production vehicles in just a couple years.

Hero image and video courtesy of BMW