Over the last few weeks, Motoring Weekly has been publishing articles about the companies behind the scenes of autonomous vehicle development. Most are unknown to the general public, however this article covers a name that everyone knows about: BMW.
Firstly though, it is important to define what “autonomous” means and the levels of autonomy that the industry has agreed on – there are five of them.
Level 1 is where the driver is fully active in the vehicle – so no autonomy other than Antilock Braking Systems, Electronic Stability Control etc.
Level 2 has the driver temporarily releasing control – Tesla are at this level with their AutoPilot.
Level 3 is where the driver is providing reduced control input and has reduced engagement with the vehicle which controls most of the decisions.
Level 4 allows the driver to sit at the wheel and only take control in an emergency, meaning that the vehicle is 90% on its own!
Level 5 is the end-point – there is no driver at all.
BMW created a group over a decade ago to develop their systems and in 2006 showed a car doing a full lap of the infamous long Nurburgring circuit albeit at Level 2 autonomy. Since then they have been testing Level 2 cars on the autobahns and also developing driver assist packages to enable self-parking and other low speed manoeuvres. However, developing these systems is expensive and so they opened the doors for others to join in as a consortium.
Two years ago several companies came onboard: Mobileye, Magna (the contract assembler for the Mini), FIAT Chrysler, Delphi and Continental Tyres. Daimler later joined the consortium to share their skills and knowledge meaning that they also agreed to put the systems on their future cars. FIAT Chrysler have chosen Maserati as the first brand in their group to implement some of the driver-assist equipment although no time period was specified. Maserati does have a five year plan to renew the products that it sells, so it would be logical to see the technology appear on the new models expected around 2022.
There was also chatter last year that the Hyundai/Kia group would also join the consortium meaning a huge volume of vehicles capable of adopting the systems over the next few years. That would mean the cost of the technology would reduce from a production cost perspective – it is not known if any of the consortium bought their way in to help cover some of the development costs. It does mean that the systems will get far more testing miles under the belt before the overall system reaches the production line. Many sub-systems are already on higher-end BMWs, however getting to Level 5 autonomy is still a little way off.
BMW has also joined General Motors in a group backing the use of blockchain to share usage data of their autonomous cars. MOBI (Mobility Open Blockchain Initiative) has been formed to standardise the data flows and General Motors is probably the largest partner in that consortium. Last year, Motoring Weekly wrote about how the car manufacturers would become data companies with a sideline of car production. The group members have realised that data sharing is a good thing – especially when human lives are at risk!
This technology will evolve over the next couple of years and then there will need to be Government approval for full Level 5 use on public roads and no one knows how long that would take or how much it would cost. It is inevitable that in the future we will have a mix of traditional, semi-autonomous and fully autonomous vehicles on the world’s roads and we as drivers need to be even more mindful that this path will be difficult to navigate.