When a BMW Dealership takes pride in itself, it’s important to understand why.
There is, of course, a sense of pride in helping people behind the wheel of some of the finest luxury, performance vehicles ever made. We also have limitless pride in our legacy, which can be traced backward for more than a century.
But today becomes tomorrow so quickly, that BMW makes little time for reflection. Instead, its focus remains fixed upon continual refinement and innovation. From the newest model year offerings of such widely embraced classics as the BMW 3 Series to the staggeringly futuristic conceptualization of the BMW iVision Dynamics, BMW has a gaze that stretches forever forward.
And of innovation at the forefront of automotive discussion, what reigns more topical than autonomous driving? BMW is no stranger to this dialog, in fact, they are among its current leaders.
It seems contradictory to relate ‘autonomy’ with ‘collaboration’, but in terms of developing the technology required to support Autonomous Driving technology, success will only be achievable with contributions from a diverse collaborative.
And the pressure is on. More specifically, the pressure has been dialed up by BMW, who remains a vocal figurehead in the furthering of such advancements. Recognizing that successful development and integration of self-driving technology is equal parts (i) automotive (ii) information technology and (iii) governmental, BMW is petitioning fellow-automakers, tech companies, and legislators to merge R&D efforts, resources, and dollars.
Organization complexity aside, a foundation upon which such technology and standards can be built is crucial. Arguably, it is exceeded in importance only by an international consensus over legality and regulation. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s assign some perspective as to where we stand in the pursuit of this initiative.
As with most developing technologies, the development of autonomous driving comes in stages, or more accurately ‘levels’ (of which there are five). Where we are, where we’re headed and ‘how quickly’ we can expect to get these can be summed up succinctly by defining these levels.
To bring us up to speed: we are currently at Level 2. This simply means that today’s vehicles are limited to driver-assistive features and that the driver always retains primary control of the vehicle. Such features would include park-assist, lane departure and collision warning and mitigation.
Level 3 (which BMW aims to reach as of 2021) allows a driver to delegate certain responsibilities under specific circumstances. Such circumstances would include driving in one-way traffic, segregated from oncoming traffic. In such conditions, the driver could opt for the car to assume temporary control. However, the driver must be prepared to retake control, should the car’s sensors relay a prompt for them to do so.
Level 4 allows for mutual delegation of driving duties. This means that the driver could relinquish full control to the vehicle, with the understanding that certain situations (such as difficult to read traffic patterns, road conditions or inclement weather) may require the driver to assume control.
Level 5 equates to full autonomy, relegating even the driver to a passenger role.
From Point A to Point B
Consider this: without the need for a driver, traditional fixtures such as steering wheels, accelerator, brake and clutch pedals could be rendered obsolete. In fact, there would be no discernible need for most control panels, because there would most likely be some sort of voice-controlled or touchscreen interface evolving from today’s technologies.
Seeming very foreign from today’s definition of what makes a vehicle, how do we intend to get from today’s proverbial ‘Point A’ to the ‘Point B’ represented by autonomous driving?
Driving Through Wi-Fi Soup
‘Wi-Fi Soup’ seems a perfectly accurate way to describe our world in 2017. Smartphones, watches, tablets, and laptops continue to duke it out for signal strength, and we wade through the soup blissfully unaware that we’re drowning in transmitted data.
The environmental impact of vehicle exhaust might be the most accurate point of comparison by which to describe the demands of autonomous vehicles. Consider first, that each vehicle would be equipped with a vast array of laser scanners, sensors, and cameras. The data processed by each would combine to populate a real-time digital map of the car’s surroundings. Continuously updated to reflect the vehicle’s environs, it would also need to (i) reconcile its data against a centralized digital map of all roadways, and (ii) communicate with all surrounding vehicles, both in real-time. This would ensure that the vehicle remains on the road, en route to the proper destination, and operating legally, all while eliminating any risk of collision or harm to passengers.
Is it fair to say that riding in an autonomous vehicle feels like a major leap of faith? After all, you’re basically entrusting your life to what (by 2017 standards) is the equivalent of an iOS update. That said, it speaks to the responsibility that tech gurus around the world must assume in the realization of this autonomy initiative.
It’s worth noting that Harald Kruger of BMW has affirmed his position that BMW will never manufacture vehicles without some extent of driver capabilities. That said, it remains a relatively singular point of view until it becomes a standard by which all automakers are held.
Ultimately, only time will tell what form autonomous driving takes when it finally comes to fruition. That said, there is little to do but applaud BMW as a champion of the collaborative. Only through the combined involvement of countless experts, within various fields, can we expect to reach an embraceable realization of this Autonomy initiative. Because it’s important that the realization is good enough for us (the masses) to embrace. Anything less would constitute some sort of large-scale trust-fall.
We can only wait (with bated breath) the day that BMW (of all automakers) reveals their first autonomous vehicle. If nothing else, it will be a surreal moment of self-realization, as the ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’ offers up (what is essential) the ultimate driving machine.