In Black And White

By Max Reid


A new colour-changing paint technology being developed by BMW will allow drivers the ability to shift between colour shades with the push of button; but the tech’s implications for future energy management research are far from black and white.

The German automaker showed off a concept model of the iX electric SUV at CES 2022 in Las Vegas during the first week of January. What was notable wasn’t the vehicle’s colour— but its colours. The model was designed using a technology the readers out there may already be familiar with: E Ink; commonly used to reduce glare on e-reader screens. E Ink sounds like some sort of confusing cross-section of chemicals and computers, but the tech is actually quite straightforward. An E Ink surface is covered in millions of tiny mi- crocapsules that are about the diameter of a single human hair. Each microcapsule contains positively charged white particles and negatively charged black particles suspended in a clear fluid.

BMW says its new tech will allow drivers to shift between colour shades with the push of button.

A positive or negative electric field would then cause either the white or black particles to shift to the top of the microcapsule, making that colour visible to the eye. The iX at CES was spotted wrapped in E Ink, atop a turntable and shifting from black-to-white like some sort of unspeakably expensive disco ball. Not only is this just a super cool cyber- punk-looking thing to do, but it also opens up the potential for the body of the vehicle to become a sort of energy conduit for its internal systems. BMW’s work with E Ink is regarded internally as an “advanced research and design project” with no plans for integration into current con- sumer models, though the automaker says it is exploring the ways in which the tech can be used to improve overall energy efficiency in vehicles. 

A first step being taken is to address small issues of driver comfort. “A white surface reflects a lot more sunlight than a black one. By implication, heating of the vehicle and passenger compartment as a result of strong sunlight and high outside temperatures can be reduced by changing the exterior to a light colour,” wrote BMW in a January press release. Questions have been raised as to whether this logic could be extended to improve things like battery performance. As well, paint companies and automakers alike have noted an increase in desire among consumers for more personalization options to come with new models. Well, how much more personalized can you get than a car that can change colours on the whim of the driver?

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