German hig-class automaker BMW, chipmaker Intel, and vision systems developer Mobileye recently announced a collaboration aimed to get them involved in producing and commercializing self-driving cars in the next few years.
Recently there have been advances in sensors and algorithms that improve the cars abilities to detect and respond to other vehicles, pedestrians, and objects in the road that might collide unless the self-driving car changes course or takes other action.
The challenge to self-drivings: the unexpected
Even now, more than a dozen car models have some measure of self-driving — on limited access highways with gradual not hairpin curves, when it’s not snowing or raining heavily, and when another car doesn’t spin out just in front of you. But it will follow the car in front (adaptive cruise control), stay centered in the lane (lane centering assist), and keep you from changing lanes if there’s a car you don’t see in your blind spot.
BMW is trying about taking its cars to a higher level of self-driving by 2021. Coincidentally, that could be the likely launch year for the seventh generation of the flagship BMW 7 Series, which is on a 6- to 7-year product cycle. BMW earlier this year said it would launch a flagship car with autonomous driving capability. BMW could also declare its flagship vehicle to be the X7 SUV, which is expected to debut in 2018 and would be due for a mid-life refresh circa 2021.
Self-drivings are the new competitive edge
The world’s premier automakers see individual driver assist technologies today, and self-driving within the decade, to be potential differentiators.
The challenge for the automakers is the core technologies — whether it’s vision sensors from Mobileye, or adaptive cruise control radars from Bosch — come from suppliers that work with multiple automakers.
Individual automakers can still hustle a technology to market by putting more people to work on the project, or make the installation and interface easier for the driver. BMW has an advantage because of its longstanding deployment of head-up displays that can show what the self-driving tools are sensing.