The BMW iNEXT will be the culmination of an amalgamation of various BMW concept technologies in 2021 according to the German manufacturer. 2021 is a long way off of course, and automotive technology is currently moving at an alarming rate, so the iNEXT should be regarded as a taster for things to come.

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We currently inhabit an environment where self-drive cars are being vigorously tested across the globe and their arrival is imminent. In the meantime the technology trickle-down is now enabling ‘driver assist’ to mean far more than just cruise control and ABS.

I recently wrote about the Volvo V90 and it’s very useful sounding Pilot Assist function that maintains speed, has automatic braking and acceleration and keeps the vehicle between the correct road markings. BMW will now also be offering similar tech on the BMW 5 Series enabling the car to be able to steer itself for a (very) short period of time.

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This is regarded as Level 2, with 2021 being the date that BMW believe we will advance to Level 3 with the iNEXT. Level 3 sounds more like the already functioning autopilot systems in passenger aircraft, enabling the driver (our pilot) to sit back and let the vehicle take over for a given period of time and a certain set of functions. Curiously, Dr Wisselman, BMW’s Senior Engineer of Automated Driving, says that the car will tell you when it is capable of doing this. Possibly (I am guessing here), on a regularly used, simple route that stays the same and is already plotted into your Sat Nav.

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Following the centenary celebrations for BMW, the company revealed a hint of what the future may hold with the Vision Next which featured a shape-shifting ‘skin’ that moulds around the car and the tyres. The iNEXT idea appears to follow on from this, but with more emphasis on future reality rather than things yet to be invented.

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The Vision Next and iNEXT are ideas that are swirling headily around the general ‘BMW i’ concept, with the reality being that in 2017 we will see the further development of the electric i3 and the appearance of the much anticipated BMW i8 Roadster, which is destined for 2018.

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The i8 Roadster will likely incorporate some of the BMW i Vision Future concept’s features. The concept that was revealed to the public at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2016 – a show that is increasingly being used by motor manufacturers to showcase new and innovative vehicle technology.

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The 2-seater i Vision Future attracted attention with its doorless good looks (an idea dating back to 2012 in the BMW files), but also showed off earlier BMW Level 2 ideas on driver assist; being able to provide information on vehicles on the road ahead that are not yet in the driver’s field of view.

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The i Vision concept consisted of 3 modes; pure drive, driver assist and auto (autonomous driving). Whilst in auto mode, the ability to ‘see’ further ahead than the driver would enable the vehicle to warn the driver of potential problems before they might occur, allowing the driver to then take back control.

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Some of this will sound familiar of course, as Volvo’s Pilot Assist already utilises some of this technology as well as the ability to spot large animals and potentially help the driver avoid a collision – and tech doesn’t get tired.

One of the big safety ideas behind autonomous driving is a universal infrastructure that will enable all cars to communicate with each other – and in an ideal world (one where all cars have this ability, I presume) this should help avoid or reduce the number of accidents.

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There is little doubt that the technology for iNEXT will be honed and will continue to work towards the completely autonomous car becoming a reality on our roads. Though the hardest part may still be convincing drivers to trust it.

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