Coming soon to a 7 Series near you, before it makes its way to every other model in the lineup.
BMW Chief Technology Officer Frank Weber partook in a roundtable interview session at the Consumer Electronics Show 2023 to discuss new technologies, revealing that the Ultimate Driving Machine will continue to exist in the age of autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles.
When asked if new in-car technologies will interfere with the driving experience, Weber answered that a BMW "will always be the Ultimate Driving Machine, but in this world [the virtual world where the i Vision Dee concept flourishes], it will be even better."
If you say so, Frank. But what about the real world? "When you want to drive purely [without autonomous driving tech], you'll get the Ultimate Driving Machine," said the CTO, adding that it's important for BMWs to have the capability to be the ultimate driving machine and that advanced driver assistance systems "are there to take over city-like driving."
Weber confirmed that a dash-mounted screen will still exist even as the way information in BMWs is conveyed changes.
So when will we see this technology? Weber says that we first need Level2+ technology to be perfected and that "full autonomy will take time but will happen." The CTO continued: "Level 3 is being introduced this year. It is real Level 3; the vehicle is in charge, not the driver." He added that this will function with limited speed in the beginning but that the bar will be raised over time.
"Level 3 functions are still expensive because the car's sensor system setup [and] backup energy solutions make things very expensive in relation to what you can do with Level 3 at the moment." As a result, this technology will launch on the ultra-luxurious 7 Series before any other model, said the executive, confirming a rumor from last year. "A more affordable Level 3 will come over the decade," promised Weber.
Speaking of expense and the many hurdles that self-driving technology still faces, Weber opined that a global regulatory framework for autonomous driving would be good, adding that BMW and other self-driving hopefuls "need data centers in every country, [and that] costs billions."
So is autonomous driving worth the expense?
"In the end, vehicles will have more assisted driving to make mobility safer and more comfortable. BMW is willing to invest this kind of money to make it happen, jointly developing autonomous driving with Qualcomm, [which] gives BMW access to collected data." He also said that the automaker will develop the tech in-house and potentially license it to other OEMs. Essentially, BMW feels that partnering with other industry experts will make enough of a difference in mitigating costs to ensure future technologies will be feasible for mainstream vehicles.
Global legislation on this sort of tech differs greatly. "Level 3 in Germany means the technical capabilities have to be better than a human being, [with] one billion kilometers traveled [in simulations] to prove it's safe," said Weber, noting that in the US, "it's currently self-certification." Tesla Autopilot has restrictions in Europe to maximize safety, but here in the US, the lack of regulation has led to numerous scandals for the company.
BMW rival Mercedes-Benz has already brought Level 3 tech to the market in Europe and has just announced that Drive Pilot will launch in Nevada and California this year, so it will be interesting to see which company - if any - gets all the way to Level 5 first.
Regardless, the takeaway here is that BMW is forging ahead with self-driving, and whenever the technology is finally ready for the mainstream market, BMW promises that driving fun will not be lost. Time will tell.