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CES: BMW gets collaborative

Virtually brilliant: Among a plethora of other new BMW tech, the augmented reality i Visualiser allows customers to tailor an i-car that isn’t actually there.

Autonomous BMW advent brought forward to 2017, augmented reality nears

5 Jan 2017

BMW has, once again, used the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas to roadmap its ambitious vision of the future with a number of technology partner collaborations part of the plan to bring autonomous driving and augmented reality to fruition.

Working with Intel and Mobileye tech-giants, the German car-maker has revised its prediction for the first self-driving BMW to rollout, and now says the first test vehicles will hit the road in the second half of this year.

Forty autonomous trial vehicles are scheduled for United States and European testing as part of a demonstration of the advancements made since the three companies announced the partnership in July last year, and some features of the tech will start filtering into the 7 Series flagship, says BMW.

The systems are not limited to BMW vehicles however, and the collaboration seeded a project to design a scalable architecture that can be used by other auto-makers. That architecture is now ready to exhibit at CES.

Speaking at the announcement in Las Vegas, BMW AG member of the board of management for development Klaus Frouhlich said the self-driving car cause would gain strength in numbers.

“Making autonomous driving a reality for our customers is the shared ambition behind our cooperation with Intel and Mobileye,” he said. “This partnership has all of the skills and talent necessary to overcome the enormous technological challenges ahead and commercialise self-driving vehicles.

“Therefore, we are already thinking in terms of scalability and welcome other companies – manufacturers, suppliers or technology companies – to participate and contribute to our autonomous platform.”

While the fleet of self-driving cars will be seen on US and European roads this year, Mr Frouhlich said the first driverless and possible production version would emerge in about four years.

“This year our fleet of vehicles will already test this joint technology globally under real traffic conditions. This is a significant step towards the introduction of the BMW iNext in 2021, which will be the BMW Group’s first fully autonomous vehicle.”

Meanwhile, the German car-maker will also debut its latest advances in augmented reality as the result of a separate partnership with Google and its Tango smartphone 3D technology.

The i Visualiser Application is being wheeled out in its initial form to allow customers to explore a virtual version of the BMW i3 electrified city car or i8 hybrid sportscar, with the vehicle projected into a real world space through their smartphone.

Users can apply customisation options such as paint colours and wheel designs and then browse the vehicle as if it were real, but the technology also allows the viewer inside the car to continue experimenting with cabin designs.

In the future, BMW customers will be able to use similar technology to build their own models and get a better idea of what the finished product will look like before the order has even been placed.

BMW Group sales strategy and future retail vice president Andrea Castronovo said the technology had proved extremely effective in early trials.

“In our initial tests, we saw people ducking down when they were getting into the car, as if there really were a roof there for them to bang their heads on,” he said. “It’s that level of detail which means this technology offers the customers real added value.”

The system will be rolled out at selected sales outlets in “double-digit numbers” to allow the specially-trained Product Geniuses to guide customers with the new augmented reality devices. If customers offer a warm reception, it is likely the technology will proliferate more dealerships.

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