Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Vision Next 100 showcases BMW’s plans for tomorrow’s motorcycle

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The Vision Next 100 is BMW's all-electric, always-connected, self-balancing motorcycle of the future. We expect its features to start trickling down to BMW production bikes within the next few years

BMW’s ‘Vision’ series of vehicles are aimed at fulfilling future mobility needs and may make it to production at some time over the next three decades. And after BMW, Mini and Rolls-Royce Vision vehicles, there’s now also a Vision motorcycle – the BMW Motorrad Vision Next 100, which was unveiled yesterday at the ‘Iconic Impulses – the BMW Group Future Experience’ event in Los Angeles.

The motorcycle, which looks rather outlandish today (but may not be all that surreal in 10-20 years from now…?) represents BMW’s vision for motorcycling in an always connected, always online world. “Motorcycling is about escaping from the everyday. The moment you straddle your bike, you are absolutely free. Your bike is ‘The Great Escape,’” says Edgar Heinrich, Head of Design at BMW Motorrad. And with the Vision Next 100, BMW’s aim is to free the rider from as many constraints as possible, even doing away with the need to wear a helmet and protective gear.

With the Vision Next 100, BMW want to produce a machine that’s still recognizably a BMW motorcycle, hence the black frame (a reference to the first ever BMW R32 motorcycle, which was made in 1923) and the Boxer opposed-twin design cues. But, of course, there will be no actual Boxer-twin internal combustion engine here – that will be replaced with a zero-emissions electric motor, fed by lithium-ion batteries. The absence of a full fairing is explained by BMW, who claim that “clever arrangement of surfaces protects the rider from wind and weather as effectively as a full fairing. The surface of the frame is covered in matt black textile, its silky sheen and fine lines highlighting the characteristic forms and representing a contemporary reinterpretation of this classic BMW detail.”

Coming to the bike’s chassis, the Vision Next 100 gets what BMW call a ‘Flexframe,’ which appears as a single, integrated whole that extends from the front to the rear wheel of the motorcycle and which allows the bike to be steered without the various joints found on today’s motorcycles. “Turning the handlebar adjusts the entire frame, changing the direction of the bike. The amount of strength needed to steer depends on the situation: at standstill, the Flexframe allows a light steering whereas at higher speeds it remains very rigid,” explains a press note from BMW. The bike’s seat, upper frame cover and wings are made of carbonfibre, and two fine, red, illuminated strips form the rear light and indicators – picking up on the typical double-C form of the rear lights on today’s BMW bikes, but with a new, futuristic twist. Even the tyres are high-tech – they have variable tread that adjusts actively to adapt to the tarmac / riding conditions, and provides maximum grip in all situations. The traditional twist-grip throttle is replaced by a rocker-switch mounted on the right-hand end of the handlebar.

“When we develop a motorcycle, we tend to think 5 to 10 years in advance. On this occasion, we looked much further ahead and I firmly believe the Vision Next 100 sets out a coherent future scenario for the BMW Motorrad brand,” says Heinrich, who adds that while designing the bike, his team was thinking decades in advance and taking into account a world where most vehicles would be fully autonomous and pervasive connectivity would be the norm. The BMW Vision Next 100 features intelligent connectivity between rider, bike and the outside world, which allows the machine to anticipate oncoming traffic patterns and alert the rider when action is required. The bike also offers active rider protection, consigning the traditional helmet and leathers to the history books.

The BMW Vision Next 100, despite having only two wheels, can balance itself automatically and is able to provide active assistance to the rider both out on the road and when stationary. The bike will never ‘tip over’ and will remain stationery and upright even after the rider has dismounted, without requiring any inputs from the rider. The same auto-balancing systems will also work to provide agile, dynamic handling, which even experienced riders will appreciate.

With the Vision Next 100, BMW will ensure that a rider never rides alone, by providing a discreet ‘digital companion’ that will, when required, provide situational information and active alerts to the rider. When not needed, however, the digital companion will remain quietly active in the background, never interfering with the riding experience. “A key point with the BMW Vision Next 100 was to make sure that the constant digital presence doesn’t undermine the analogue riding experience. The display and operating concept works so subtly that the rider can enjoy an entirely natural biking experience, trusting the bike completely and enjoying complete freedom and ease. As interface designers, our job is to deliver the right amount of the right information at the best possible time and place,” says Holger Hampf, Head of User Experience at the BMW Group.

In addition to the digital assistant, BMW Vision Next 100 riders will also have the services of a smart visor – essentially, a pair of data glasses that extend across the rider’s field of vision, providing wind protection (no helmet, remember…) and showing relevant data in four designated display areas. The display areas are controlled by the rider’s eye movements – looking up or down changes the content that’s shown, while looking straight ahead switches off the information display completely, leaving the rider to focus fully on the ride itself. Also, information is only projected on to the visor on request, or to alert the rider to the fact that a certain action is needed on his part. “The bike has the full range of connected data from its surroundings and a set of intelligent systems working in the background, so it knows exactly what lies ahead. By collating the data it has gathered, it can suggest ideal lines and banking angles, or warn riders of hazards ahead,” adds Hampf. If the bike’s position at any given time does not match what is suggested by the machine’s onboard computers, the rider has the option of making the necessary corrections himself. If he responds too late or not at all, the bike will then correct itself in an effort to keep the rider safe at all times.

BMW have also designed a special suit which they claim is integral to the Vision Next 100 riding experience. Depending on conditions, the suit warms or cools the user, while its flexible, banded structure is inspired by the human form and provides support whenever needed. At higher speeds, the suit’s neck section inflates to provide extra support for the upper vertebrae and improve overall comfort, while variable openings offer additional ventilation. Unlike conventional riding suits, however, the futuristic Vision Next 100 suit offers no safety features, because the bike’s intelligent assistance systems make them unnecessary.

“The BMW Motorrad Vision Next 100 unites the best of both worlds – digital and analogue – for the ultimate emotional experience: The Great Escape,” concludes Heinrich. It would be interesting to see how quickly, and to what extent, the futuristic features showcased on this machine percolate down to BMW’s actual production motorcycles over the next 10 years!

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