Will BMW take on Uber with self-driving cars?

July 04, 2016 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
Carmaker BMW has announced to develop a fully autonomous vehicle that enters series production by 2021. In the joint announcement with Intel and computer vision technology company Mobileye, BMW CEO Harald Krüger said the car, baptized iNEXT, will be able to drive autonomously in urban environments as well as on highways. A substantial part of the plan is establishing fleets of self-driving vehicles that could be commercialized for ride sharing.

To create the IT basis for the self-driving BMW – on-board as well as off-board -, BMW joined forces with Intel and Mobileye. The goal of the collaboration is to develop solutions that enable drivers to not only take their hands off the steering wheel, but also reach the so-called “eyes off” (level 3) and ultimately the “mind off” (or level 4) stage of automated driving. This level of autonomy would enable the vehicle to achieve the final stage of automated driving which is defined as travelling “driver off” without a human driver inside.

This, Krüger pointed out, will establish the opportunity of self-driving car-sharing fleets - much like those operated by car sharing service Uber today, with the notable difference that the robot BMWs won’t even need a human driver. Krüger did not elaborate if BMW plans to operate these vehicles itself or sell it to customers like Uber. However, given the fact that the Bavarian carmaker in public appearances does not define itself as a car manufacturer any longer but instead as a “mobility services provider”, it is well possible that the Bavarians could emerge as a competitor to Uber. An indicator that this is likely is BMWs activitiy in the car sharing business: Through a joint venture with car rental company Sixt, BMW is involved in car sharing company DriveNow with activities in multiple European countries as well as in the United States.

 

The trio also said it plans to establish an open platform for autonomous driving. This platform will address level 3 to level 5 of the automated driving scale and will be available to any interested parties within and outside the automotive industry. As a first step, they will introduce a common reference platform architecture in the near term. However, they did not elaborate on technical details of such a platform. Intel just highlighted the scalability of its microprocessor architecture that covers the range