The firms will develop Level 4 self-driving systems together, meaning within certain areas drivers should be able to take their eyes off the road, feet off the pedals and hands off the steering wheel – assuming legislation allows for this.
Level 4 is considered to be a “high” level of automation, allowing cars to drive themselves when certain conditions are met – in this instance when the cars are in a highway environment. Level 5 is full, door-to-door automation, which works in all areas and conditions – although this is not within the scope of the firms’ agreement, and some industry insiders have predicted full Level 5 is decades, not years away.
The initial focus of the project between BMW and Mercedes will be autonomous systems that work in in the highway environment. It is likely the firms will use geofencing – where cars will only allow their self-driving systems to be activated in specific locations – to achieve their aims.
Some 1,200 employees from the firms will work together to develop a “scalable platform for automated driving.” BMW says a key aim of the project is “the swift market launch of the technology”, which is expected to be available in private passenger cars within five years.
Assuming the project is successful, by 2024 it means BMW and Mercedes customers should be able to purchase a car that – legislation permitting – will drive them on motorways and highways with no driver intervention whatsoever. The firms will also work closely on self-parking systems, while “further talks are planned” for potential work on automated driving in urban environments.
The project is based on “non-exclusive cooperation”, and is open to other manufacturers and technology firms to join. Firms who decide not to join the German duo in the project will be able to purchase the results of the study under licence.
While a number of carmakers have made declarations on the subject of self-driving cars promising varying degrees of automation, some, like Ford, have toned down their previously bullish expectations in this area. The fact BMW and Mercedes say the systems are expected to be available to customers by 2024, coupled with the specific focus on highway driving, and the two firms’ previous experience with autonomous tech, makes this one of the more significant announcements of the many we have seen on the autonomous subject.
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