A dream of space

“MINI Vision Urbanaut” is the name of the current digital vision for a new MINI. A real new departure because the design boasts a completely different character from the models to date by this car brand.
by Anna Moldenhauer | 12/11/2020

“With the ‘MINI Vision Urbanaut’ we are extending the private sphere far into the public one, thus offering new and enriching experiences,” pronounces Adrian van Hooydonk, Head of BMW Group Design. The vision was developed from the inside outwards. Designed as a full-fledged living space, the spatial concept sets the tone for the vehicle’s basic structure. And it is generous. The environmentally friendly electric drive saves space by disappearing into the underbody, typically of the MINI, the wheels sit on the outside edges of the bodywork. Users access the car exclusively via a wide sliding door on its side. Ideally, the vehicle will have a length of 4.46 meters in total. Its automated driving functions mean that users can choose between driving themselves or leaving the job to the artificial intelligence. Both in terms of colors and the understated construction, the car’s foot lever unit, steering wheel and dashboard have been well integrated into the interior and can be retracted. And once the familiar controls are no longer visible, there is as good as nothing in the “MINI Vision Urbanaut” to remind us that we are inside a vehicle.

Accordingly, the fittings are flexible: The layout with its four seats can be folded, rotated and transformed into two cozy seat benches and an armchair. Instead of featuring chrome and leather most of the surfaces have been covered in knitted textiles, the natural material that is cork has been integrated into the steering wheel and the floor. The vehicle’s pleasant surface feel underscores its relaxed, comfortable atmosphere. This being the case, the focus in this vision of a MINI is no longer completely on the driving experience, instead passengers are invited to use the car’s interior like an additional living room over a period of many hours and to take advantage of all its features – whether this be to work, for a meeting or to relax. The back, boasting darker colors, represents a more relaxed area and its roof section with its loop is reminiscent of the functional acoustic furniture currently in use in many open-space offices. By contrast, the front section with its wide front windscreen, featuring lighter colors such as rosé and a revolving seat so that if necessary a user can take over the driving function, represents the active area. In this vision of a new MINI, life and work intertwine.

The focus is on the user’s well-being and its interior is correspondingly laid out, with a multitude of functions and a warm look and feel. In the center of this future vehicle is a little table, including even a green plant. Integrated into its tabletop, very unobtrusively, are they controls for the “MINI Token”, an interactive interface for the vehicle’s entire technology. To complement this a round element has been envisaged, a screen which fulfills a whole range of functions, from lighting to centrally controlled media. The control center here is of the highest aesthetic quality and the settings can be adjusted, depending on the user’s mood, for the overall interior, lighting, fragrance, and sounds.

Three pre-curated usage scenarios are already available “Chill”, “Wanderlust” and “Vibe”. In “Chill” mode the back seat bench allows for a recumbent position with the indirect lighting muted and gentle background sounds coming from the loudspeakers. In this case, the round instrument’s screen is folded downwards, becoming a table lamp. In the “Vibe” mode, the latter is transformed into a control center for the media and the car living room becomes a party room. To match the music a dynamic animation roams over the surfaces at the front, on the back, on the wheel rims and the loop. What’s more, when temperatures rise the advantages of the folding front windscreen function come into their own. The third MINI mood, “Wanderlust” is intended for users out on the open road. Travel information about the chosen route appears on the round instrument and the animation simulates the relevant movement in the interior. If there are not enough pre-programmed scenarios the system offers users the opportunity to compose their own. Then, when they have selected their favorite scenario, made themselves comfortable in the back seat bench’s upholstery and no longer feel like getting up to select any more new moods, there is a set of “direct touch” controls in the loop above the back seat bench. “With the MINI Vision Urbanaut we can completely rethink the layout of the entire interior and thus the usable floor space in relation to the car’s footprint,” explains Oliver Heilmer, Head of MINI Design.

With the exterior design for this vision, flexibility is also very important to MINI. The front headlights only become visible when in use and, like the rear lights, can display graphics in a number of colors. This means that even from the outside it is possible to see which mode is currently activated in the car. Moreover, inspired by the maneuverability of a skateboard, the wheels can be lit to suit the MINI mode currently selected. Accordingly, the car’s communication with the exterior is no longer just restricted to the usual signals in the shape of lights and sounds. When you think about its wide sliding door, its glazed roof and its folding windows, the “MINI Vision Urbanaut” is less of a closed cosmos and more of an open space. Indeed, its compact external dimensions are ideal for urban environments, whilst its cleverly partitioned interior offers users a high degree of comfortableness and convenience of the kind otherwise more to be expected from bulky motor caravans. With its “Vision Urbanaut” MINI is thus making an important point in the development of visions of future vehicles.

MINI Vision Urbanaut