BMW has a vision of the future, as it celebrates its centenary. And it looks like a self-driving car with a lot of interesting refinements for those times its pilot is actually behind the wheel. "Our objective was to develop a future scenario that people would engage with, said BMW Group Design director Adrian van Hooydonk. Technology, he added, will open up "fantastic new possibilities that will allow us to offer the driver even more assistance for an even more intense driving experience."

Gizmag says the car, called Vision:

[A]nticipates a time when self-driving cars are a mature technology, city streets are more crowded, time is a premium commodity, and connectivity and interactive technology has been freed from the confines of the dashboard display.

Mercedes-Benz Vision TokyoThe Mercedes-Benz Vision Tokyo: BMW's inspiration? (Photo: Mercedes-Benz)

I love futuristic visions as much as the next guy, and BMW may well have been inspired by rival Mercedes-Benz’s two cars in the space. Most recently late last year it was the Vision Tokyo, which the company called “a chill-out zone in the midst of the megacity traffic mayhem.” But there was also the equally cool F 015, which I saw debuted at CES in Las Vegas. The latter made it clear that self-driving passengers can sit facing each other in a living room environment.

Everyone is seeing an inevitable march toward these autonomous cars, and the Germans are taking it a bit further by imagining how it might be to live with them. Few discordant voices have been heard, though Bob Lutz — the maverick who invented the Chevy Volt and sometimes rubbed top brass the wrong way (think a smarter John DeLorean without the drugs), is pretty sour. He wrote this in Road & Track this month:

BMW Vision Next 100Inside BMW's Vision: drive it or relax in it, while 'Companion' does your bidding. (Photo: BMW)

Make no mistake: When the fully autonomous car becomes a reality, it will be the death of the automobile industry as we know it. I'm sorry, but that's inevitable….[W]hen we really get to the point where we have individually programmable but standardized transportation modules moving on the freeway with a whole snake of vehicles at 150 mph, brands will no longer matter. What is the reason for being in a BMW module or a Mercedes module? Especially since you get a different one every time you dial it up on your device? For automakers, that's the scary part.

Maybe automakers are scared, but they’re certainly embracing autonomy now. The BMW Vision is pretty neat. And the company says it aims to take its “sheer driving pleasure” even further. “BMW aims to make this fascinating driving experience even more intense in the future,” the company said of the Vision Next 100, shown at the Munich Olympic Hall earlier this month. “The driver is in constant communication with the vehicle in an intuitive and natural way.”

BMW Vision Next 100The scissor doors open when you approach, then close when you push the BMW logo in the dash. (Photo: BMW)

When you approach the car, the “scissor wing doors” open by themselves, and the steering column moves out of your way for easy access. After you’re in, you press the BMW logo and it gets you ready to drive (or be driven). Why can’t cars do that now?

BMW Vision Next 100BMW's Vision still includes plenty of speed, so you're likely to see the rear end of this car. (Photo: BMW)

There are dramatic futuristic “fender skirts” that are there to cut down on aerodynamic drag. The car supposedly clocks in with a drag coefficient of 0.18, better than anything else on the road.

Automakers are getting excited about gesture control — the ability to make the car respond by waving your arms about — and the Vision Next 100 capitalizes on that. The ideal driving line is also projected onto the windshield in what is called “alive geometry,” and the tech also projects images of obstacles you may not see, such as a bicycle messenger pulling out from behind a truck.

Mercedes F 015Inside Mercedes-Benz's F 015. It's a living room on wheels. (Photo: Jim Motavalli)

All that is for when you’re actually behind the wheel, but there are two driving modes: “In Boost Mode, the driver becomes one with the vehicle and will be able to experience even more intense driving pleasure in the future. In fully-automated Ease Mode, on the other hand, the Companion takes over all driving tasks and the interior is transformed into an individual comfort zone.”

And while you’re relaxing in the back, the BMW Vision Next 100 accesses the Companion to “provide the driver with subtle, intuitive assistance in every situation.” Does it, like a good butler, ensure that your extra-dry martini is shaken, not stirred?

The BMW Vision Next 100 is going on a world tour of the U.S., Britain and China, including a stop at the upcoming New York Auto Show. Here's a look on video:

Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.

BMW's self-driving vision includes a virtual butler
BMW Vision Next 100