Autocar's vision for the upcoming BMW i4
BMW has revealed more of its plans to make its cars more intelligent, but full autonomy is still some way off, according to board member Peter Schwarzenbauer.
Speaking at the company’s FIZ Research and Development centre near Munich, Schwarzenbauer said that while BMW’s upcoming models - which will be connected to a vast cloud network of real-time safety and driving information - will be capable of Level 3 autonomy (where the car can take over in certain circumstances, such as in slow-moving motorway traffic, but the driver has to be ready to regain control), he believes that "society might not yet be ready" for self-driving vehicles.
"Will society accept this? I don’t believe society is ready to hand over responsibility for its life to a machine. We will go step by step. Level 3 will probably be acceptable, but anything further than that will take a lot of time" said Schwarzenbauer, who is responsible for the Mini and Rolls-Royce brands.
In the near future, however, BMW is betting that highly detailed live driving information that will appeal to today’s more 'hands-on' drivers.
A significant amount of real-time data is generated by the cameras and sensors fitted to BMW's connected cars, allowing the compilation of detailed information on local weather conditions, hazard information - such as ice on the road - and live traffic information.
There are currently around 250 million ‘requests’ per day generated by the 700,000 cloud-connected BMW cars already on the roads.
This information is collated and anonymised by BMW’s own ‘back-end’ server and then sent back down from the cloud to other connected BMWs.
Even more live information is added by similarly connected Mercedes and Audi vehicles, all of which feed into the open-platform HERE mapping system, which is owned by the German big three.
It's this currently unrivalled live information, along with super-accurate lidar mapping (which is updated in real-time), that could give the trio a significant lead in fully autonomous driving, whenever that is judged ready for the market.
In any case, BMW engineers say it's connected cars that will be significantly safer, thanks to the level of driver information about the route ahead. This is already provided by more than 2 million vehicles – a figure that will increase exponentially.
BMW engineers are also working with specialist camera maker Mobileye on an artificial intelligence programme that allows the windscreen-mounted camera and associated software to identify approaching vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists in milliseconds, as well as anticipating the likely trajectory of the vehicles travelling in front.