Design Meets Technology: The BMW i5 Flow NOSTOKANA

The i5 Flow NOSTOKANA is a different type of art car. Combining cutting-edge technology with E Ink and the design of a 33-year-old BMW 525i Art Car design, it demonstrates the potential future for BMW design and brings new possibilities for the automotive sector to life.

A Long Time Coming

The South African artist Esther Mahlangu designed the 12th BMW Art Car in 1991. Based on a 525i, it used her signature colours and geometric patterns to stunning effect. Mahlangu was a trailblazer for BMW, becoming the first woman and first African artist to design an art car for the German brand. “Her art inspired me years ago, back when the concept of colour change on a car was just an idea in my head,” says Stella Clarke, Research Engineer Open Innovations at the BMW Group. Clarke just worked with the South African artist to create the best demonstration of the colour-changing technology, E Ink, so far. Mahlangu so it was “fascinating” to see how modern technology could be used in art and “make it accessible to a completely new audience”.

Art Meets Cutting-edge Technology

The i5 Flow NOSTOKANA uses sections of film that can be electronically animated. There are millions of microcapsules in each E Ink film. The arrangement of particles they contain can be changed by applying electric voltage. This allows patterns and colours to be constantly changed. 1,349 sections of film have been fitted and can all be individually controlled to change what’s displayed on the car. This technology represents another leap forward for the colour-changing technology. 2022 saw the BMW iX Flow which could switch from black to white. The BMW i Vision Dee could display up to 32. The i5 Flow NOSTOKANA however can display more colours and a large number of patterns, whilst also being more robust than before which could make future mass production easier.

A Special Soundtrack

EVs are known for having synthetic sounds to try and replace the noise of an engine. These can range from spaceship noises to roaring engines. However, the i5 Flow NOSTOKANA has a different type of soundtrack. Composed by Renzo Vitale, the BMW Group’s Creative Director for sound, it combines the soundscape of BMW and South African culture. Vitale uses sequences from Mahlangu’s voice and the sound of the feather brushes she used while painting. To add to these, they were combined with the sound of pencils in the BMW design studio and the acoustic signal heard as feedback when operating the BMW i5’s touch display. The sound begins softly at the beginning of each colour change and becomes more intense as the animation progresses.

BMW and the Arts

The BMW i5 Flow NOSTOKANA was presented at the Frieze Los Angeles art fair as part of their long-standing relationship. The art fair also sees BMW presenting Frieze Music in collaboration with Frieze. The joint initiative has seen musicians brought together at the art festival since 2019. The 525i Art Car that was the inspiration for the i5 Flow NOSTOKANA will also be displayed in South Africa for the first time in over 30 years as part of the exhibition hosted by the Iziko Museums of South Africa and the BMW Group in Cape Town “Then I Knew I Was Good at Painting”: Esther Mahlangu. A Retrospective. The exhibition pays homage to one of the country’s most influential artists and ambassadors and is a fitting demonstration alongside the BMW i5 Flow NOSTOKANA.

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