As progress is made in the field of artificial intelligence those working in the automotive industry think that self-driving cars could soon be a common sight on out roads. Recently a group of journalists were invited to Silicon Valley to be briefed on BMW’s roadmap to self-driving cars. In the heart of Mountain View, California is the BMW Technology Office; this is the company’s research site, which works closely with the BWM innovation group in Munich. Many of the app integrations and developments that can be found in the new BMW’s were developed here. Now the company is focused on delivering self-driving cards by 2021.
An impressive pool of talent is working the project on. They have chosen to work for BMW over the many other technology based operations in the area. The company believes that this is because BMW offers an attractive incentive: the ability to work on projects with a clearly defined roadmap. In this case that is the goal of self-driving cars by 2021.
Dr. Klaus Buettner, the Head of Autonomous Driving at BMW, and Simon Euringer, Head of BMW Group Technology Office USA, explained to the assembled journalists the philosophy behind BMW’s self-driving technology. They believe that their approach differs significantly from other carmakers. BWM pride themselves on taking a more cautious approach to creating autonomous vehicles. This will allow them to deliver a fully functional product.
Highlighting the company’s detailed approach is the guide they have applied to self-driving technology. This explains how BMW views the different levels of autonomous driving:
• Level 0: Hands on Eyes on.
• Level 1: Hands on, Eyes on, longitudinal or lateral guidance
• Level 2: Hands temporary off, eyes temporary off, traffic control and longitudinal or lateral guidance
• Level 3: Hands off, eyes off, awareness for take over, take over request
• Level 4: Hands off, mind off, no driver intervention, no take-over request
• Level 5: Hands off, driver off, no driver
BMW’s first self-driving car will be the BWM iNEXT, which will be delivered in 2021. While the iNEXT will employ Level 3 technology this wont come as standard on the car. For BMW it is vital to offer a car that retains the typical BWM driving dynamics. Therefore, at least to begin, with self-driving technology is an optional extra. While one team works on developing the iNEXT a separate team will be working to implement BMW’s Level 4 and Level 5 vision.
The iNEXT will not be the first Level 3 self-driving car. That will be the Audi A8, which is due to be launched in 2018. However the Audi A8 comes with a caveat, the self-driving technology will only work on speeds up to 37mph. The more detailed approach taken by BMW means that the iNEXT will have a top speed of 80mph. BMW believes that this higher speed is more suitable to highway driving, rather than the typical stop-and-go of urban roads.
For the self-driving dream to become a reality it will require the transition from Level 2 to Level 3. This will require a technological leap. BMW thinks that this is only possible now because computing power has reached a level that allows them to work on the functional side. A by-product of this push is that there is potential for the industrialisation of sensors over the next few years. This will enable more advanced sensors to be developed to enhance self-driving features. To be fully self-driving it is thought a car will need 3 LIDARs, full range radar, 2 short range radars, rear facing cameras, GPS antenna, trip focal camera, front side camera, 360 surround view camera, 360 ultra sound coverage, 1 rear camera and 2 rear LIDARs.
In comparison BMW’s latest G30 5 Series boasts Level 2 technology. This includes a side view camera, full range radar, ultrasonic sensors, side range radar, surround view camera, stereo front camera and rear view camera.
Making the leap to Level 3 means that car makers will have to overcome numerous issues such as, when driving at high speeds, the detection of small objects is a critical issue. While this is less of a problem in urban environments there are other issues, such as the behaviour of pedestrians, to consider.
As a result BMW’s platform for autonomous driving cars is extremely complex. This has led to the company collaborating with other carmakers and tech companies in a number of areas. For example, HD maps are an essential component of self-driving cars, so BMW, Daimler and Audi partnered up to buy HERE Maps. High-data transfers are also important in communication protocols, this led to BMW joining the 5G Automotive Association. As well as cooperating with other car makers BMW also has a number of partnerships in place with a variety of companies. One such partnership is with Intel and Mobileye who provide in-car computers powerful enough to drive BMW’s future cars and data centres to process the data.
To achieve its goal of self-driving cars BMW realises that it must be nimble and iterative. With this in mind the company has adopted the Agile software development methodology. This thinking is behind the creation of a new campus in Unterschleissheim near Munich. When completed over 2,000 employees will be based here, working on the next steps towards self-driving cars. The site will house everything from software development to road testing. The employees based here will use a modular platform to design the iNEXT as well as other self-driving cars.
At the heart of BMW’s quest for self-driving technology is safety. This is the most important and challenging aspect to overcome before self-driving cars can be legally used on our roads. Before the go ahead can be given self-driving cars must cover 240 million kilometres without an accident – 5% of this by fleet cars, the rest through computer simulations. Working towards this BMW currently has 40 7 Series cars equipped with self-driving technology testing around Munich. It eventually hopes to have 185 test cars on the road. It is planned that in 2019, there will be 100 vehicles with HAD (Highly Automated Driving) and FAD (Fully Automated Driving) tested worldwide.
While BMW currently has the technology to deliver Level 3 cars today it instead prefers to wait, taking a more cautious approach. Instead of rushing to be the first BMW knows that delivering a fully tested, safe self-driving car is the most important goal and one that will deliver long-term success.