Currently reading: Fully autonomous cars could be a fantasy
BMW’s Ian Robertson questions the viability of ‘brain-off’ self-driving car technology

Fully autonomous cars may never be allowed on many public roads, according to BMW’s special representative to the UK, Ian Robertson.

Speaking at the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) Summit, Robertson highlighted BMW’s leading role in developing self-driving systems, but conceded that it may never be morally acceptable to leave the decision for unavoidable accidents to a machine. “Imagine a scenario where the car has to decide between hitting one person or the other — to choose whether to cause this death or that death,” he said. “What’s it going to do? Access the diary of one and ascertain they are terminally ill and so should be hit? I don’t think that situation will ever be allowed.”

BMW already has more than 40 vehicles testing on public roads running 660-mile (1000km) journeys routinely. However, Robertson revealed that, while the majority of the trips are completed without problems, the engineer on board has to intervene on average three times.

BMWs will be intelligent, but full autonomy is a long way off, says board member

“That’s good, but we are working in a scenario where it has to be perfect,” he said. “If we are working towards a ‘brain off’ scenario, where perhaps we expect travellers to even sit in the back of the car and relax, then that clearly isn’t possible today, despite what some might tell you.

“Then there is the overarching consideration of the regulators that we need to consider. In the UK, the government is encouraging autonomous testing — even if some of its fundamentals go against the Highway Code, the fabric of our laws. They know we are in a race to take leadership and that opening up to testing could have significant benefits.

“But I believe that in the long term, the regulators will step in and set boundaries about how far we can go. It might be to allow it only on motorways, as they are the most controlled environments.

Or perhaps they’d essentially ‘rope off’ parts of cities to allow autonomous cars into controlled areas, where the consequences for pedestrians are controlled.”

While still BMW’s sales and marketing chief last year, Robertson stated that he could never see a scenario where the firm made cars without steering wheels.

He instead suggested that the occupants would always want the option of choosing to drive themselves.

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HHX621 8 August 2018

2 in 1

That's the future. I'm certain that at when the autoN level 5-10 arrives.. Yes there will be 100% insurance that covers those who drives autoN level 5 or higher probably at latest from level Six!

Andy_Cowe 8 August 2018

I feel on edge with some

I feel on edge with some drivers, totally relaxed with others. It depends on how well the car is being driven. Autonomous cars will not be fully released until they drive very well, and are dependable. I doubt I'll be any more worried about them failing than I now worry about a tyre exploding.


I like driving, but most journeys are mundane. I wouldn't mind a future where driving becomes a hobby, much liked horses did when the car came along. The current death toll won't be missed. 


The technology is developing. Autonomous cars will happen, but BMW are probably not in the best market position for them - a drivers car, but not pure enough for the hobby market. So no surprise they are a naysayer. When will see them is very uncertain, but my guess would be the first ones appearing in 10 years, commonplace in 20, and mandatory in 30.

androo 8 August 2018

Dash cams

Sit and watch YouTube videos from dash cams for a weekend. Then come back and say autonomous cars are daangerous. You won't be able to. In the future it will be a cause of great hilarity and shock that humans were ever allowed to control vehicles. That's not to say that achieving an autonomous future will be easy. It won't. But it will happen. It already is.

Peter Cavellini 8 August 2018

Never happen?

androo@, So I guess you the Cuckoo in the Nest chucking out others logic out of hand?, and tell me, do you think fully autonomous will happen in ten, twenty, thirty years?, if autonomous was they way to go, why hasn’t Aviation embraced full autonomy decades ago...?