BMW has announced its plans for the “future of mobility” in collaboration with computer chip maker Intel and autonomous software specialist Mobileye.
At a press conference in Munich over the weekend, BMW Chairman, Harald Krüger, outlined the company’s ambition for a staged rollout of autonomous technologies that would see a fully autonomous vehicle enter production as early as 2021.
“The BMW Group aims to play a leading role in shaping the future of the automotive industry,” Krüger said.
“Fully-autonomous driving will be key.”
Despite the May 7 fatality of Florida man, Joshua Brown, when driving his Tesla in autonomous mode, the BMW Group, Intel and Mobileye "are convinced that automated driving technologies will make travel safer and easier".
The aim is to develop "future-proofed solutions" that will progressively ramp up the capability of the system allowing drivers to not only take their hands off the steering wheel, but, as the system capability grows, to also drive with “eyes off (the road)” - described as a level 3 capability, and, from there to a “mind off” capability (or level 4).
The ultimate goal is to achieve “driver off” capability (or level 5), without a human driver inside. The latter, of course, will allow the creation of public transport systems with fleets of self-driving cars. When it arrives, it will change personal and mass-transport forever.
While there will undoubtedly be blowback from the Tesla crash, not least of which may be a tightening of government oversight and regulation of 'self piloting cars' (which could slow development of the technology and limit its use on public roads), BMW is aiming to make its autonomous technology platform an industry standard and an 'open source platform' for other automakers to utilise.
The first Highly Automated Driving (HAD) concept to preview the autonomous systems (under a BMW badge) is expected in the short term (although there is no definitive timeline). However, in 2017, “extended autonomous test drives” will be offered to fleets.
Debate re driver responsibility
However, while an inquiry is still underway, the Tesla crash has put things into a sharper perspective for governments and regulators.
The Florida fatality - caused when a semi-trailer driver failed to give way and pulled across the highway in front of Brown's Tesla, which in turn failed to detect the truck's trailer - has provoked debate about where the responsibility lies when in control of a self-driving car.
In a statement last week, Tesla said that autopilot "does not turn a Tesla into an autonomous vehicle and does not allow the driver to abdicate responsibility". Early reports indicate that the deceased driver may have been watching a Harry Potter video at the time of the crash.