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BMW says it will release Level 3, 4 and 5 autonomous vehicles from 2021, accounting for market needs, demands and legislation around the world.

Speaking at a special event in Munich, outgoing member of the BMW board of management, Dr. Ian Robertson, said the company wants to lead autonomous driving, having teamed with the likes of Intel, MobileEye, Fiat Chrysler Automotive and, to a lesser extent, Mercedes-Benz and Audi through a partnership with HERE.

Nonetheless, BMW’s core values will see it offer the option for drivers to take control

“For us, the focus is always on the customer benefit,” Robertson said. “We will always let the customer decide in which mode to drive, because it’s not sheer driving pleasure if you don’t have a choice.”

BMW says it needs to deal with plenty of challenges, and will have to iterate a more reliable system before it reaches customers – no doubt referencing Tesla, which uses far fewer sensors for its semi-autonomous driving systems, and has used the public for ‘beta’ testing.

“It wouldn’t be right now to take it step-by-step, making the arduous way from the low second level to the third. Due to the system leaps, the additional requirements in terms of redundancy, computing power and connectivity for fully automated driving, we will be able to fully master Level 5 right from the outset in 2021.”

“From then on, we will be able to offer automation solutions worldwide in a flexible range of level 3 to level 5 – depending on customer demands and the respective legal framework, just like the modular systems that you already know from our e-mobility solutions.”

BMW sees autonomous driving as “a huge challenge” according to Robertson, who also highlighted the need for better tech from external suppliers.

“Autonomous vehicles must be fully connected. In this field, we have already done the groundwork. Today, over 10 million BMWs from series production are fitted with an embedded SIM card – more than at any other carmaker,” Robertson said.

“But on top of that, we also need a high-speed 5G network with data rates of up to 10 gigabits/second and high availability. Plus, free access to an HD real-time maps.”

BMW has a fleet of around 40 vehicles conducting daily autonomous driving tests around the world. The company has three separate sensor arrays and the associated computing hardware, each exponentially more powerful than the next, to offer Level 3, 4 and 5 autonomy.

BMW will create multiple-layers of redundancy in the software and hardware, so there is no single point of failure – something all manufacturers and suppliers need to do.

“At present, we’re developing a comprehensive sensor cluster consisting of cameras, radars and laser scanners, which is coupled with an artificial intelligence system to generate an environment model via data fusion.”

The brand’s artificial intelligence and autonomous driving systems are being developed with other manufacturers, which BMW says will give it an edge in the long term.

CarAdvice was given a tour of the autonomous vehicles in use by BMW and, so far as we could tell, the sensors and computing equipment left very little room in the vehicle for the occupants – computers filled the entire boot of a current 5 Series.

That suggests there is still plenty of work to do before autonomous BMWs will grace our roads, but the company’s approach appears to be built around the idea that it’s best to get it right first time, without testing software and hardware on the general public.

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