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  • By John R. Quain

BMW's High-Flying Concept Car

With security usually reserved for blockbuster premieres, BMW flew into four cities around the world last week with a customized Boeing 777. On board was a VIP passenger, a vision of the automotive future, the iNext concept car.

BMW showcased the car in Munich, New York, San Francisco and Beijing aboard the 777, which had been outfitted with a bespoke Laserium-like projection system and demonstration areas. The idea: Feature all of the company's technologies--autonomous driving, pure electric propulsion, connectivity, and artificial intelligence--in a single vehicle. The plan: While a version of the iNext could appear in two years the bigger plan is to roll out each of these systems, step-by-step, year-by-year, across the automaker's entire portfolio.

Toward that end, BMW said it plans to offer a fully-autonomous vehicle by 2021 and have 25 different electrified models, five of which will be pure electric, by 2025.

Among the other highlights of BMW's Vision iNext concept crossover:

- A chaise lounge-like backseat that responds to touch commands. Draw a treble clef on the seat, for example, and music starts playing, directed exclusively to your seat.

- An overhead projection system that can beam an interactive picture or video onto any surface the passenger may care to use.

- Retractable pedals and steering wheel that stay out of the way until you tell the car that it's your turn to drive.

- A voice-enabled personal assistant that does not need a specific wake-up word and learns your preferences and habits automatically over time.

- An interface that recognizes "micro gestures," small finger movements you make in the air, to turn up the volume, switch radio stations, or perform other tasks.

- From the Formula 1 racing world, an undercarriage with a rear outlets known as a diffuser to improve handling and aerodynamics.

- Video cameras, front, side and aft, to replace mirrors. BMW said the car would have up to 33 sensors, including chip-based (a.k.a. solid state) lidar.

For all the forward-looking technologies, the automaker said the iNext would retain one traditional feature: It will still drive like a BMW when you want it to with a sub-4 second 0 to 60 mph acceleration.

The future can't get here fast enough.

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