BMW is currently working with tech giant Intel and vehicle sensor firm Mobileye to develop a highly-capable self-driving system which the automaker plans to deploy in 2021.
The system will debut in a technological flagship code-named the iNext and be so robust that BMW predicts drivers in certain situations will be able to sleep behind the wheel.
The iNext won’t be a fully self-driving car devoid of a steering wheel and pedals, the likes of which Ford and Waymo have promised. You’ll still require a driver’s license to be able to operate it, but in certain situations the car will have Level 3 and even Level 4 self-driving capability.
The most advanced cars at present have Level 2 self-driving capability. This is where constant monitoring by the driver is required in case of an emergency.
Level 3 is robust enough that the driver can take their eyes off the road for long enough to read a text message or enjoy the scenery, but they need to remain alert should they be required to take over following a brief warning period, normally a few seconds.
Similar to Level3, Level 4 allows a driver to take their eyes off the road. The key difference, though, is that in a Level 4 car the timespan for the driver to take over control is far longer. And in the situation that the driver fails to take over control, the car is able to safely stop by the side of a road.
Level 5, the ultimate goal, is where no driver is required. BMW predicts Level 5 cars will be ready before 2030. We’ll likely see them introduced initially on a trial basis and restricted to certain zones.
According to BMW, the iNext will be able to operate in Level 3 self-driving mode in traffic that is moving in the same direction and separated from oncoming traffic. The automaker says the iNext will be able to operate in Level 4 self-driving mode in urban centers and eventually in traffic that is moving in the same direction and separated from oncoming traffic. It’s this latter situation where BMW predicts drivers of the iNext will be able to nod off.
In parallel to developing self-driving technology, BMW and its partners are working on standards, platforms and a backend for the future of self-driving cars. They’re also open to other firms joining the alliance.