BMW cuts the roof off an i8, fills it with the future

Published: 06 January 2016

► BMW i8 show car at CES 2016
► Showcases ‘AirTouch’ interior tech
► A production i8 Spyder still a possibility

This dramatic i8 Spyder show car is the centrepiece of BMW’s stand at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. The ‘Vision Future Interaction’ concept’s purpose is to showcase a variety of futuristic dashboard display and interface technology, including a more advanced gesture control system BMW calls AirTouch.

What’s so futuristic about the Vision Future Interaction’s interior?

Gesture control, touch-sensitive surfaces, a three-dimensional head-up display and more.

Dominating the dashboard is a curved 21in-wide display screen stretching across its button-less surface.

Many of its functions are operated by ‘AirTouch’ gesture control; a more advanced evolution of the system available in the new BMW 7-series, three separate AirTouch sensors recognise the driver and passengers’ hands independently and, crucially, their ‘depth’ movements, so it’s possible to ‘push’ items remotely.

Essentially, the display can be controlled like a touchscreen without actually touching it. While the existing system in the 7-series can be controlled by a wagging a pointy finger in its direction using a limited series of prescripted movements, the new system is also designed to be operated by flat palm gestures. So it’s ideal for Sebastian Vettel and for mime artists.

BMW i8 CES 2016

It’s also possible to control the display via voice control if you’d prefer to keep your hands on the wheel. Which you don’t always need to do, incidentally – as with most futuristic concepts these days, it’s been designed with autonomous driving in mind.

There are three driving modes, toggled by a control on the steering wheel: Pure Drive (do the driving yourself), Assist (does some of it for you) and Auto Mode (almost completely autonomous). The wheel is illuminated in different colours so the driver knows for definite which mode they’re in, and the amount of distracting information on the cloud-connected display screen expands and contracts accordingly – including face-to-face phone calls if you’re in max autonomous mode.

What else is BMW up to?

BMW’s also displaying a ‘mirrorless’ i8 coupe concept at CES, using three cameras to create a composite wide-angle display on a screen in place of the centre rear-view mirror, picking out imminent hazards in yellow graphics. Slimline outboard cameras take the place of the wing mirrors, and double as indicators.

What about a BMW i8 Spyder production car? Could that happen?

Ostensibly the Vision Future Interaction is just  a concept; a roofless (and doorless) car is all the better to show off interior technology, and a striking supercar shape is all the better to get show-goers to wander over and take a look inside in the first place.

However, insiders acknowledge that taking the decision to place an i8 Spyder on public display has put the idea of a production version back on the company’s agenda. Discussions are said to be underway at a high level, although the end result wouldn’t reach the market for at least another two years – potentially to coincide with a facelift for the by-then aging i8 range.

A convertible i8 concept car has previously been displayed at the 2012 Beijing motor show, but BMW personnel have tacitly admitted that coming up with a production-ready roofless variant would be a tricky process.

Read CAR's review of the BMW i8 Coupe here

Also at CES 2016: Faraday Future FFZERO1 Concept and VW BUDD-e

BMW i8 CES 2016

By James Taylor

CAR's deputy features editor, occasional racer