BMW to offer highly automated driving from the end of the year

Take your hands off the wheel and eyes off the road and answer some emails: BMW is set to begin rolling this option out for some high-end cars later this year, following similar offerings from Ford and Mercedes. — Photo: Daniel Karmann/dpa

MUNICH: BMW is set to follow Mercedes-Benz in offering self-driving systems to luxury cars at home in Germany, allowing drivers to take their eyes off the road and watch a video under certain conditions.

"We have approval from the German Motor Transport Authority to offer level 3 automated driving in Germany," BMW division manager Nicolai Martin told Germany's business newspaper Handelsblatt. "The system will be introduced in the 7 Series later this year."

With Level 3 of automated driving, the driver can temporarily leave the driving to the software and no longer has to look at the road. This means you can "watch videos and answer emails," Martin explains.

But the driver always needs to be able to take the wheel again in the space of a few seconds if the system prompts them to do so.

In Germany, self-driving software from Mercedes-Benz, and soon BMW, can drive completely autonomously on motorways in traffic jams or heavy traffic up to 60 km/h without the driver having to look at the road.

BMW is not yet disclosing the price of the system.

The company's chief executive Oliver Zipse had expressed scepticism about the market prospects in Las Vegas in January. A Level 3 system that constantly switches off in rain, fog, in tunnels and in the dark is not something any customer will want, he said at the time.

Since then, however, the BMW 5 Series has become the first car to receive approval for partially automated driving up to 130kph on motorways in Germany.

In August, the Ford Mustang Mach-E also received approval for semi-automated driving up to 130 km/h on motorways.

With so-called Level 1 and Level 2 systems, which are the most common levels of driving assistance in cars at the moment, the responsibility remains with the driver, even if assistants can take some control over steering and speed.

It's only at level 3 that the car takes over responsibility and the driver can entirely devote their attention to other things.

Ultimately, manufacturers aim to build self-driving cars that don't even have a steering wheel, which would take us to level 5 autonomy. Despite ever-more mobility companies testing out robo-taxis on city streets, the technology isn't expected to appear on roads at this level in the near future. – dpa

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