London’s Roundhouse began life as a humble train shed with a turntable that was used to put trains in the right direction on the right track had outlived its original purpose by the late 1950s. Through the ‘60s and ‘70s it became one of the premiere venues for live music in the world hosting acts that included The Who, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, The Sex Pistols, The Clash, Genesis and Blondie and so many more. It was also home to experimental performances that included works by Warhol and rock theater spectacles like Godspell and Oh! Calcutta! But like so many iconic venues it fell into disrepair in the 1980s and ‘90s. Recently reborn and now the host to not only top current music artists and shows, it also is home to the Roundhouse Young Creatives Project nurturing the arts for a new generation. With this history, it’s not surprising then that MINI chose to unveil their Vision Next 100 concept vehicle in this incredibly creative space.
Like the Rolls-Royce and BMW Vision Next 100 cars, this is an exercise in predicting and creating the world 25 years into the future. As it rolled silently onto the stage powered by its zero emissions electric drivetrain, the Mini Next (what I’m calling the concept from now on to save me all those keystrokes) looked every bit the part. With its full glass front end and intriguing technology, this Mini is not of this age, but the lines and details pay homage to Minis of every era. Starting with the profile, the Mini Next is definitely an evolution of the current Mini design, a two-door square back coupe with the wheels pushed way out to each corner. Because this is a concept, Mini designers made several assumptions about technology, social trends and laws governing autos in the future.
One is that in the future, autonomous technologies will make accidents a thing of the past. Thus Mini was able to do away with a lot of the crash safety features built into current cars like bumpers, crumple zone and airbags. The most obvious feature of the concept its glass front end which provides an unrestricted view of the road ahead. This also makes driving without pants a thing of the past, but that’s another story! The transparent front quickly becomes overshadowed when the car’s subbed silver skin transforms chameleon-like based on the driver’s preferences and moods. This is the first overt symbol of one of the key elements of the Mini team’s vision of the future, that’s based on the concept of car sharing and carries that trend to its ultimate conclusion.
Calling it “Every Mini is my Mini” the idea is that you don’t actually own a Mini, but own the use of a MINI whenever you want it. Thanks to autonomous and connected technologies, you’ll be able to order up a Mini, anytime day or night and it will come to you set up just the way you like it, even welcome you by name if you so choose. Once the car arrives you can keep it in self-driving mode or take over and drive yourself. While not going into specific details on the mechanicals, Mini promises the go-kart like handling and spirited performance will still be at the heart of the driving experience.
Inside, the car features an open and organic look and feel. Because all the controls wirelessly communicate to the motors, brakes and steering mechanism, they can be slid to either side of the car, or centered when the car is in autonomous mode. The materials in the Mini Next concept are all highly durable materials since the cars will be shared and used more often than a private car in the present day. Recycled plastics and aluminum abound. The seats are covered in Alcantara, a synthetic suede and the cargo netting is made from lightweight basalt.
While there is no traditional instrument panel, the Mini Next features a new concept called the Cooperizer. Looking like a kaleidoscope mounted in front of the driver, the Cooperizer has rotary controls that allow the driver to select everything from drive mode to entertainment options, lighting, navigation, and even holds some surprises. Pressing the “Inspire Me” button on the Cooperizer checks the driver’s downloaded user data and engages the car’s artificial intelligence to recommend everything from a restaurant, show or exciting drive route on your way home.
It’s an interesting view of the future and an expression that presents some of the possibilities of how connected and autonomous technologies can transform driving. I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing more of the artificial intelligence and predictive modeling features in our cars in the very near future.