Before Your Eyes: BMW unveils coloured ‘e-ink’ coated car

Los Angeles, California — BMW has recently unveiled a new tribute to an iconic vehicle from its Art Car program: the BMW i5 Art Car featuring the artwork of South African artist Esther Mahlangu.

The creation pays tribute to a 5-series sedan that was customized by Mahlangu in 1991 but instead of traditional paint, the vehicle uses coloured electronic ink (E-ink), similar to what’s found in e-readers, like Kindles. BMW first unveiled this technology in early 2022 at the Las Vegas Customer Experience Show (CES), but that car–a BMW iX Flow–could only shift between white and black hues. Last January, BMW revealed its first coloured e-ink coated car, the iVision Dee, which could also “talk.”

Mahlangu, known for her adaptability to new technologies, was one of the first South African Ndebele artists to transition from black-and-white and natural paints to acrylic colours–making her work an obvious choice for BMW’s colour-ink coated car.

“I am always excited to explore new mediums and to collaborate on projects,” says Mahlangu. “When I first started painting, it was murals for the decoration of our houses. I then realized that by using more contemporary mediums, I could show my works to much larger global audiences. This project continues to allow me to achieve this goal.”

The latest version of the BMW i5 Art car has over 1,300 panels covered in full-coloured electronic ink, offering “higher resolution, [that is] more seamless, and capable of more complex renderings,” according to Stella Clarke, the BMW engineer who leads the project.

The latest in BMW’s Art Car program (left) is an all-electric i5 that features the electronically animated art of Esther Mahlangu, who used a BMW 5 -Series sedan as her canvas back in 1991 (right).

When Clarke first started working on creating the E-ink concepts, she thought about how to alter the car’s colour to reflect light differently based on the season or displaying information on its exterior. However, while these ideas made sense to her as an engineer, she worried that they wouldn’t excite the average person.

“Their smiles came with the playful stuff—with the racing stripes and rims that change colours,” says Clarke. “And that’s what’s so wonderful about this project with Esther. It concentrates on joy. And her art also concentrates on joy.”

Clarke found inspiration in a photo of Mahlangu in another BMW, which she customized with a painted dashboard and interior in order to showcase her happiness. This photo is what piqued Clarke’s interest in collaborating with Mahlangu.

“Esther Mahlangu was an inspiration to Stella Clarke long before she knew she would have this technology at hand to create her own homage,” says Thomas Girst, BMW’s head of cultural engagement.

While joy is a significant aspect, BMW also sees potential for consumer use, and cost would be a consideration.

“We strongly believe that any customer has the right to customize their car in whichever way they want,” Girst concludes.




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