BMW's contribution to the self-driving future:
In 2015 it outsold rivals Mercedes-Benz and Audi for the 11th straight year, holding its crown as the largest luxury-car maker in the world. As one of the oldest car manufacturing companies, BMW also was one of the first to seriously investigate driverless opportunities. Already in the year 2000 it implemented a first version of its radar Active Cruise Control in its 7 series. Later in 2007 this was available at ‘full speed’ in the 5-series with Stop-and-Go function. In 2013 BMW added the Traffic Jam Assist, Active Blind Spot Detection, lane-departure warning, a pedestrian- and collision-warning system to the mix and in 2016 you can park BMW wagon automatically and call it to your doorstep afterwards.
But the first BMW self-driving car is not around the corner just yet. Fully autonomous is a long way to go for BMW and marketing communication has been very limited. While (time) investment in the autonomous car has been present for many years, BMW opted in the first place to communicate on their electric car innovations. Now that the electric battle has been lost to Toyota (and to Tesla in lesser extend), BMW revealed it would focus its future vision on the self-driving.
BMW was one of the first car companies to set up shop in Silicon Bay, in 1998. Also in Europe and Asia the car company is at the top of the (driverless) technology game. BMW’s most famous tests include the 2007 TrackTrainer, their 2011 3000-mile test from Munich to Nuremberg and their testing partnership with Baidu, making them the only company included in autonomous testing in China before 2016. (In an interview board member Klaus Froehlich told Reuters that he believes large-scale implementation of fully autonomous cars will begin in China, the world's largest car market. "China is extremely fast implementing technology. Last year, more electric cars were sold in China than in all the other global markets combined).
Having a host of driverless ‘solutions’ and ‘assists’ implemented into their usual car series, like the in 2016 released ultimate 7-series 750i, with Driver Assistance Plus, Parking assistance, Active Driving Assistant Plus and lane-intrusion collision-avoidance (as a $3600 optional equipment), BMW did not create a hype around a ‘driverless’ model before 2016 (like Mercedes did with their F105 or Tesla with model X). Closest to this description came the BMW i3, released in 2015 with reviews stating: ‘BMW's autonomous i3 forgot how to crash’ or ‘Automatic valet’, pointing out the crash-assist and automated parking connected with Samsung’s smartwatch. Although the electrically powered i3 was mainly marketed for being environmentally friendly, it was also BMW’s first application connected smart car.
i8 and iNext
After disappointing i3 sales, BMW was bound to shift its i-brand to focus on autonomous driving. Crucial signs of the switch began in 2015. First when together with Audi and Mercedes, BMW bought mapping company Here for a stunning 3 billion dollars. Mapping is a crucial requirement in developing a fully autonomous car. In March 2016 news circulated that BMW planned on recruiting thousands of software developers to combat Google’s advances in the field. “Software engineers make up just 20 per cent of the 30,000 employees and need to get to a ratio of 50:50 within five years”, said board member Klaus Froehlich. Also BMW disclosed it had been testing autonomous trollies in factories. In June 2016 BMW announced a partnership with Mobileye and Intel. Mobileye bringing in the anti-collision technology and Intel the chips and processors.
This all lead up to the introduction of iNext, the successor of iCar and BMW’s promise to bring a fully autonomous car platform to market by 2021. The near future will be represented by the BMW i8, implemented with existing ADAS-features, but the real self-driver will be the iNext. The car will most likely be based on the BMW Vision NEXT 100 concept car, presented in celebration of 100 years BMW. The next five years will be crucial to put all pieces of the puzzle into place. Here’s mapping, Mobileye Road Experience Management (REM) technology and Eye 5-camera, Intel processors and BMW’s Next 100 design. All these pieces will make sure the iNext features "autonomous driving, digital connectivity and an intelligent lightweight design. Now we wait for the details.
In addition board member Klaus Froehlich gave away that like Toyota (partnering with Uber), GM (partnering with Lyft) and Volkswagen (partnering with Gett), BMW is looking for a ridesharing company to join forces with. The first BMW self-driving car could easily be used in taxi fleets. Also this is a to be continued..