Autonomous driving looms large at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2020 taking place in Las Vegas, and BMW stakes its entry with the i Interaction EASE concept which ‘offers a glimpse into a future where autonomous driving has become commonplace’, the German automaker said.

The concept here has been given a deliberately abstract exterior in order to focus attention on its interior, which is aimed at giving its passengers the feeling of having already arrived at their destination when they are still en route. The key feature of the i Interaction EASE concept is the gaze detection system, which offers passengers relevant information when they set their gaze upon an object outside the vehicle.

The materials, geometry and technology in cabin of the i Interaction EASE have been geared squared to the passenger, says BMW, with particular emphasis placed on ‘natural interaction with an intelligent autonomous vehicle’. To that end, the concept employs interaction forms already familiar from current BMW production models, such as touch control, gesture control and natural speech for conversing with the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant.

The concept’s artificial intelligence uses its gaze-sensing to browse the space around the user and around the vehicle, while pointing motions can be used to pick a selection for more information. This chosen for of interaction draws from the way people talk to one another, says BMW, in the way the person’s gaze determines who or what is the subject of the conversation, or the meaning of what is being said.

In order for this interaction to be as natural as possible, the acoustic and visual signals received from a host of sensors are processed according to the driving situation, time and location as well as vehicle signals, instead of requiring the user to learn specific commands beforehand.

For example, it is possible to obtain information from the context of the passengers’ field of view when their gaze is cast on a restaurant or a cinema, for example. The concept’s Panorama Head-Up Display spans the width of the windscreen, and serves as the focal point of the occupant cabin. By superimposing a digital layer over the view of the outside world, an augmented-reality user interface is formed.

The windscreen can then provide further information on the users’ surroundings and the situation at hand, and harnesses 5G network connectivity to inform the occupants of the surrounding buildings, businesses and other objects. Certainly, there are various modes in which users can interact with the vehicle.

The first of three modes, Explore shifts focus to the area surrounding the vehicle. Augmented reality technology is used to superimpose information on the display so that passengers see it both in their line of sight, as well as in the correct position for their view of the outside world. Focusing their gaze on the superimposed data brings up further information, and another confirming gesture summons the next interaction level.

The in-car experience is emphasised in the Entertain mode, where the surfaces at the sides, or windows, are darkened to obscure the outside world and the full-width display can be used for watching movies, for instance. Ambient lighting creates a theatre-like experience, says BMW, adding emphasis to the entertainment aspect of the concept.

When a more tranquil setting is desired, the third, Ease mode brings a sense of calm and relaxation, BMW says. Intelligent material serves as a control surface and can move the seats into a ‘zero-gravity’ position, which aims to give its occupants a sense of floating in mid-air. The Intelligent Personal Assistant darkens the Panorama Head-Up Display and makes the sides opaque, while adding soft ambient lighting and ‘a harmonious composition of pleasant sounds’.

A selection of the natural interaction gesture functions showcased in the i Interaction EASE concept is set to be realised in when the BMW iNEXT arrives on the market, according to the automaker. The marque’s next fully electric SUV is tipped to have a range of 580 km on the WLTP test cycle, and its considerable size means it calls for a battery capacity of 100 kWh or more. The production iNEXT is also said to be launched with Level 3 autonomous driving.