BMW, the self-proclaimed purveyor of the ultimate driving machine, says it will roll out the ultimate self-driving machine by the year 2021.
The first Bimmer with level-five autonomy will make its global debut a short year into the next decade, according to Elmar Frickenstein, senior vice president of the company’s autonomous driving division. Level five autonomy denotes a car that does not require any kind of human input to get from point A to point B — even in the snow or on roads with no lane markings. All the driver has to do to become a passenger is set an address in the navigation system.
The announcement comes shortly after Intel acquired Mobileye for approximately $15.3 billion. BMW is working closely with both companies to design and fine-tune its self-driving technology. Currently, engineers are developing tech that corresponds to levels three, four, and five.
BMW’s first full self-driving car will be inspired by the 23rd-century-esque Vision Next 100 concept (pictured) introduced last year, which suggests it will be a standalone model instead of a teched-up version of an existing car. It will be positioned near — if not at — the top of the BMW i lineup with a price tag to match; don’t expect a base-model 2 Series to come standard with level-five autonomy in 2021. The technology will gradually trickle down to smaller, more affordable cars, but it’ll take a while.
The leap to level-five autonomy is a significant one. In theory, the driver can nap, work, or read a book while the car drives itself, so designers have more freedom to explore new ideas as they draw the cabin. For example, the futuristic retractable steering wheel relentlessly showcased on countless concept cars in recent years could become a reality in a car with level five autonomy. Installing a driver’s seat that swivels is possible, too, though there are safety hurdles — such as where to place the front airbags — to overcome first.
Regardless, BMW’s ultimate self-driving machine is shaping up to be one of the most futuristic cars on the road.
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