Anyone who’s ever dreamt of sitting back and relaxing while their car chauffeurs them around (i.e. anyone who ever watched I, Robot) might be in luck if they stick with BMW.
The automotive brand has said it is aiming to get its first fully-automated, driverless car on the road in 2021 under the ‘i’ range and that it is to be christened the iNext.
Chairman of the Board Harald Kruger made the revelation at a press conference in Germany for the 96th Annual General Meeting and said top tech companies Intel and Mobileye are to be brought in to ensure everything will be as high-end as possible gadget-wise.
Early indications suggest the vehicle is to be a mid-size electric crossover with a whole-screen head-up display that can move and change colour to indicate road conditions and potential hazards.
Next-generation batteries will be built in to ensure the iNext has an all-electric range of 311 miles, as well as faster charging once they run out – drivers won’t want to be sitting around for too long while they wait for their car to recharge on a long journey, after all.
In terms of automation, this car is officially going to be ranked as level three, which means it has conditional automation and can steer, brake and check the surroundings, but the driver must be available to step in as a failsafe.
The ultimate aim is to get iNext up to level four – where the driver doesn’t have to intervene at all and can just kick back – and BMW hopes to be able to do this within a year of the first launch. It’s a pretty ambitious goal, we’re sure you’ll agree.
Mr Kruger said the iNext is to be “our new innovation driver, with autonomous driving, digital connectivity, intelligent lightweight design, a totally new interior and ultimately bringing the next generation of electro-mobility to the road”.
The iNext will be manufactured at the Dingolfing BMW plant in Germany, just outside Munich.
BMW has been doing extensive work on automated vehicles lately and recently said on its blog that it doesn’t agree that the testing of driverless vehicles should rely on miles travelled. Calling this “neither practical nor sensible”, it argued that the most relevant tests should focus on “a much smaller number of critical driving situations” in order to test reaction to hazards.
It also said it will be shifting its focus from profits and sales to the goal of becoming market leader in autonomous driving and electric vehicles. Indeed, it aims to have 40 autonomous 7 Series test vehicles on the road by the end of this year alone, again featuring technology from Intel and Mobileye.
A range of test drives will be carried out using the fleet, including driving on motorways (so that they don’t have to deal with oncoming traffic to start with) and driving in city centres, where multiple manoeuvres will be necessary in often crowded conditions.
The latest news from BMW is sure to be seen as a challenge by some of the world’s other big carmakers to get their driverless vehicles ready to go as soon as they can. They just need to get the vehicles behaving ‘safely and reliably in any conceivable driving situation’ and ‘operating in a way that is predictable for other road users’, as per official legislation.
Who knows – perhaps we could soon be enjoying the type of automobile technology we’ve envied for so long in sci-fi movies.