Could Your Next BMW Actually Drive Itself?
January 25, 2012

Could Your Next BMW Actually Drive Itself?

The possibility of self-driving cars have been a hot debate for years now, and many companies -- such as Google, Ford and Volvo -- have dabbled in the area producing conceptual designs and even testing real-life models on real-life highways.

And now, BMW is testing the waters with its new hands-free “ultimate driving machine.” The German automaker has been drawing press interest in its recent showing of what will be possible in the next 10 to 15 years with self-driving cars. BMW announced in August its “ConnectedDrive Connect” (CDC) system.

BMW this week released a follow-up video showing its CDC system in real-time. The company put the car -- a BMW 5 series model -- on the Autobahn, along with a human driver who did not maintain contact with the steering wheel during the test.

BMW created special algorithms to handle every possible situation the car could be involved in and uses the car´s position in pre-mapped highways to navigate and the location of other cars to avoid. “The car adheres to all traffic laws,” assured the video moderator. The car can brake, accelerate and pass other vehicles all while monitoring and analyzing traffic conditions. The CDC system uses radar, cameras, laser scanners, and ultrasound sensors to maintain control.

“Our main challenge was to develop algorithms that can handle entirely new situations. In principle, the system works on all freeways that we have mapped out beforehand with [a] centimeter accuracy,” said Nico Kaempchen, project manager of Highly Automated Driving. at BMW Group Research and Technology.

While the Autobahn test was flawless, don´t expect to see a new line of autonomous vehicles hitting showroom floors anytime soon. The video is nowhere near showoff mode as to how a driver can just leave the driving to the computer. The test was mainly used to show a system that could be available in as little as ten to fifteen years.

Industry watchers say driverless technology will first be a luxury feature in high end cars before it trickles down into the mainstream marketplace. BMW, GM, Audi, and others have been gradually rolling out driving assistance technologies in their vehicle lines.

BMW is now making advances on adaptive cruise control technology that now comes standard in other vehicles. It will be available in its upcoming line of i3 series electric cars. It will also offer a “traffic-jam feature” that allows the car to speed up, slow down, and steer on its own at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour, as long as the driver keeps his/her hand on the wheel.

But will emotional barriers of fear and love of driving keep people from accepting the idea of autonomous cars? The idea is controversial, with many concerns over regulations, liability, insurance, and safety putting the brakes on some of the enthusiasm for the concept.

O. Kevin Vincent, chief counsel of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, told Molly WOod of CNET that he thought the public “ought to be petrified” of the idea of cars driving themselves at high speeds.

But autonomous mode in all vehicles doesn´t mean all driving responsibility is lost. Technology can simply take the burden off drivers when it will benefit them, those around them, and the community at large. And for long, winding back-country roads, there´s always manual mode, wrote Wood.

Let´s be honest: that´s the only time driving is fun anymore anyway, she added.


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