BMW i8 concept car showcased at CES 2016

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BMW is showing off a concept car at CES that lets its occupants use hand gestures to control its entertainment system and heating, and even send commands to their smart home kit from afar.

BMW’s i8 hybrid sports car. The concept at CES ditches the back seats and roof (as well as the doors for the model on display) and gains what BMW is calling AirTouch. This is the company’s vision of a fully gesture-based control UI that replaces a touchscreen (which would be impractical given the cockpit of the i8) with sensors embedded in the dash and a widescreen display. Additionally, the seats are canted in toward each other by 15 degrees, something Hampf explained makes conversation between driver and passenger easier and more natural.

Car seats as we know them will be woefully inadequate when driving is handed to a computer.
A physical toggle switch on the wheel switches the car between three different modes: Pure Drive (you take the wheel), Assist (think adaptive cruise control and lane keeping), and Auto Mode, where the car will take control. In Auto, the wheel retracts toward the dash, and the LEDs in the rim change color, making it unambiguous as to who is supposed to be in charge. The gesture-based UI is rather neat—it’s meant to be operated one-handed, so we’re not quite at Minority Report-level yet—and it appeared to be a rather elegant way of interacting with the car.

The i Vision Future Interaction joins Volvo’s Concept 26 (which Megan Guess took a close look at recently) in showing us what the inside of an autonomous car might look like within the next decade. As Hampf points out in the video, having chairs that swivel creates a bunch of problems that will require a lot longer to solve—something that designers and engineers at Volvo and Audi have also told Ars recently. Seat belts, for example, would need to be rethought (although BMW’s old 8 Series might provide some ideas), and air bags would need to be redesigned to work with rearward-facing occupants in the front.

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