Vantablack VBx2 paint finish changes the viewer’s visual perception of an object’s three-dimensional shape.
This September, the 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show will provide the backdrop for the world premiere of the third-generation BMW X6, the car that established the Sports Activity coupé segment a good ten years ago. At the event, BMW will also present a spectacular one-off vehicle with a Vantablack VBx2 nanostructure paint finish. This exclusive show car is the result of a collaboration between BMW and Surrey NanoSystems, the inventors of the Vantablack technology.
With design highlights like the optional Iconic Glow kidney grille, distinctive twin headlights and striking taillights, the new BMW X6 provides fascinating contrasts.
The BMW X6 is the first and only vehicle in the world to feature a Vantablack VBx2 paint finish. “We turned down numerous requests from various automobile manufacturers in the past,” explains Ben Jensen, founder and Chief Technical Officer of Surrey NanoSystems. “It took the BMW X6 and its unique, expressive design for us to entertain the idea.”
The human eye perceives Vantablack as two-dimensional
A surface coated in Vantablack loses its defining features to the human eye, with objects appearing two-dimensional. This can be interpreted by the brain as staring into a hole or even a void, making Vantablack a rather unsuitable vehicle paint finish, as it blots out virtually all the design details and highlights. For this reason, the BMW X6 was coated in the VBx2 variant initially developed for use in architectural and scientific applications. This coating can be sprayed on and has a one-per-cent total hemispherical reflectance (THR), meaning it is still considered “super black” while enabling a small amount of reflection from every angle. Thus, materials painted with it seem to lose their three-dimensional appearance – as demonstrated on the BMW X6.
Vantablack: the “blackest black”, developed for aerospace applications.
The name Vantablack has already become synonymous with an entire range of extremely black coatings and paintssuch as VBx2. It contains an acronym of the technology enabling this superior black in its first two syllables, which standfor Vertically Aligned Nano TubeArray, a matrix made out of carbon. Each of these carbon nanotubes has a length of 14to 50 micrometres, with a diameter of 20 nanometres, making it around 5,000 times thinner than a human hair. As aresult, around a billion of these vertically aligned carbon nanotubes fit into one square centimetre. Any light striking thissurface is almost completely absorbed rather than reflected, and effectively converted into heat.
This technology was initially developed for coating space-borne components. As Vantablack can be applied attemperatures from as low as 430 degrees Celsius, it is suitable for delicate materials such as aluminium, and opticalcomponents coated in Vantablack enable observation of faint stars and distant galaxies that stray light from the sunmakes difficult to detect. The first generation of Vantablack introduced by Surrey NanoSystems in 2014 absorbed up to99.965 per cent of light, almost completely eliminating reflectance and stray light.
“I think it went beyond all our expectations,” commented Ben Jensen, Vantablack inventor and founder of Surrey NanoSystems. The BMW X6 in Vantablack looks absolutely fantastic. We also realised that it wouldn’t have worked if we’d put on the original material, as the viewer would have lost all sense of three-dimensionality. VBx2 with its one-per- cent reflectance provides just enough of a hint of shape. Add to that the contrast between the matt black surface and details such as the Iconic Glow kidney grille, the headlights and the windows – everything is just set off beautifully.”
According to Jensen, the material is now being used more and more in various types of, laser-based sensor equipment for driver assistance systems and technologies for autonomous driving, for instance. That is because incident sunlight can cause a degradation of performance in these systems as well. A Vantablack coating eliminates these issues and results in increased safety.
“Internally, we often refer to the BMW X6 as “The Beast.” I think that says it all,” commented Hussein Al Attar, Creative Director automotive Design at Designworks and the designer responsible for the new BMW X6. “The Vantablack VBx2 finish emphasises this aspect and makes the BMW X6 look particularly menacing.”
The Frankfurt Motor Show is Europe’s leading platform for mobility and will take place from 12 to 22 September 2019 in Frankfurt am Main.