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Paris show: BMW won’t build ‘robotaxis’

No hands: BMW’s R&D chief says its autonomous technology would outpace the global regulations required for the tech to be used.

Autonomous BMWs to still be fun to drive but tech will beat regulations

11 Oct 2018


BMW’S R&D chief says the company’s push into autonomous vehicles will not include so called robotaxis, with all future BMW models to retain a steering wheel.
The Bavarian car-maker will showcase the next phase of its autonomous technologies from its i sub-brand in the production version of the recent iNext concept that will be rolled out globally in 2021.
Discussing the challenges of developing autonomous vehicles, BMW AG board member for development Klaus Froehlich said the he would ensure future self-driving cars would retain the driving characteristics of a BMW.
“The only thing is, and that’s where I am very picky, a BMW will always have a steering wheel,” he said. “I will not offer robotaxis.
“Of course you can use them for robotaxis and whatever. I always want the driver to make the decision if he wants to drive. For example, the iNext has the weight of an X6 M. It has more performance than an X3 M. It accelerates 0-100km/h in less than four seconds. It drives (with) low centre of gravity.
“(iNext) will be fun to drive.”
Left: BMW AG board member for development Klaus Froehlich
Mr Froehlich said the current definitions of autonomous vehicle levels would shift in time, with the future Level 3 likely to include “fully fledged” automatic driving on divided roads at speeds up to 130km/h.
The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has defined six levels of vehicle automation, with Level 0 meaning no automation and 1 as offering some driving assist features.
Level 2 has combined automated functions but the driver must remain engaged, Level 3 is conditional automation where the driver must be ready to take control of the vehicle at all times, Level 4 is high automation and Level 5 is full automation.
Mr Froehlich added that BMW’s autonomous systems would be modular, which would allow its future models to be capable of all levels of autonomous driving, despite the fact that he believes the technology will easily outpace autonomous vehicle regulation.
“I developed very modular (systems), like I did on powertrains. I don’t know how much Level 4 systems will be required. Will ride sharing work or not? So I am flexible too. Level 3, 4, 5 is modular. So the redundancy of the Level 4 system is simply my Level 3 system I have developed anyway. 
“The software module, the stack, is modular, so I do not invent the wheel new like others do. They have a Level 3 system that is completely independent of the 4 system.
“So Level 4 will be also ready in 2021, the car (iNext) is capable for Level 4, but I do not know today where I will pilot this because I do not know where the regulators will move. I personally think that China will be the fastest and I think Europe will be the slowest.”
Mr Froehlich said autonomous vehicle regulations in the United States and China were progressing well, but added that Europe was well behind.
“Even on a Level 2 system they do not catch up with technology development.
“I am involved in political processes, besides engineering. I have no confidence that they will wake up. I think China will simply make the rules and start laying (the groundwork).
“Electro-mobility and autonomous is the same for them.
“Then the Europeans can adopt it.”
Mr Froehlich described autonomous vehicle development as a “Mars mission” given the amount of testing and preparation involved in getting it right.
“I have to prove 240 million (kilometres) of accident-free driving. We do 95 per cent in a data centre. We are driving in an environment which will generate, by random, traffic situations. The other five per cent are driving on the roads. 
“We drive from the test area outside Munich to the campus on Level 3 and in the city to my research centre, in urban traffic, they drive already Level 4. We are driving already for Level 3, we drive Genoa in Northern Italy.
“When you have a Level 4 system and there is an accident, was it an error of the environment, which will be 99 per cent of the case, but then there will be lawyers and juries and we have to prove that we have state of the art and so on so forth.”

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