BMW, which has prided itself as the maker of “Ultimate Driving Machines” for the last 40 years has come up with technology that ultimately allows a car to drive itself. Developed by BMW’s Highly Automated Driving research division, the drive system has the potential to control everything from acceleration and on-road driving to switching lanes and braking.
It stands in complete contrast to the mantra of driver involvement espoused by the German automaker. But automated driving is a technological pinnacle of the tools automotive engineers have been working on for years, including adaptive cruise control, radar, lidar, and GPS.
Dr. Nico Kampchen, the project manager of BMW’s Highly Automated Driving unit, said in a statement that the technology provides a wholly new driving experience.
“It is a strange feeling handing over complete control of the car to an autonomous system,” he said. “But after a few minutes of experiencing the smooth, sovereign, and safe driving style, drivers and passengers begin to relax somewhat and trust the independent system.
“Nevertheless, the driver is still responsible for the situation at all times and must constantly keep an eye on the traffic and the surroundings.”
Currently testing on a BMW 5 Series, the system has undergone around 3000 miles of testing on public roads. BMW began experimenting with the technology with the BMW TrackTrainer that uses digital data, video recording, and GPS data to record roads and find the quickest lines on a racetrack to drive a car. The company uses TrackTrainer (shown in video below) to teach its new test drivers how to drive cars properly.
BMW also has a technology called Emergency Stop Assistant that can autonomously take control of a car and bring it to a safe stop when the driver isn’t able to, such as during a health emergency. The system also activates the emergency flashers and can notify first-responders. Part of this technology is already available in BMW’s off-the-shelf ConnectedDrive software.
The technology has evolved greatly from radar-based active cruise control into a full-scale automated driving process with Big Brother behind the wheel. But it’s not perfect yet.
“The next thing we want to ‘teach’ our prototype is how to deal with road construction sites and motorway junctions,” Kampchen said. “Construction sites are a big challenge because they take on all kinds of forms, which makes detection, localization, and determining the right vehicle response quite difficult.”
Automotive.com’s take: When did driving become a chore? Do we need to have technologies that drive for us or just better drivers on the road? Let’s step back for a second and take a deep breath. Technology is great. Technology moves society forward. But technology ultimately always fails and gets replaced with something supposedly better. Do we really want to be in those cars when said technology fails? Do we want Skynet, er, BMW to be able to steer our cars without our input? It sounds like a scary future — and one that’s ultimately not that far off.