BMW has confirmed that its fully autonomous iNext will be produced for 2021, with lightweight construction and an all-electric range of over 500km.
The brand originally announced last year that it had joined the race to produce fully autonomous cars and had teamed up with tech firms Intel and Mobileye in a bid to offer its first fully self-driving car in 2021. BMW now claims that level 3.5 autonomy will be possible from the car.
Although not one of the official five levels of autonomy, level 3.5 will bridge the gap between 3 and 4; the former allows part-time fully autonomous driving, but requires human intervention in certain circumstances, while level 4 allows completely human-free driving altogether.
The announcement of another i-branded model, called iNext, was made early in 2017. BMW has now said this model will be introduced in 2021 using Intel and Mobileye knowhow to develop the artificial intelligence required for it to drive itself.
The model will feature technologies and systems developed in conjunction with the two companies and will be the focus of BMW’s autonomous car operations. BMW also said urban transport solutions, including autonomous ride-sharing strategies, are in the pipeline.
BMW breaks down the progress of autonomous vehicles into three stages: ‘eyes off’, ‘mind off’ and, the ultimate goal, ‘driver off’.
The 2021 car, according to Amnon Shashua, CTO of Mobileye, will give both level three (eyes off) and level five (driver off) autonomy. However, BMW chairman Harald Krüger said, “Safety is always the priority,” suggesting that the final level of autonomy is not yet set. This was backed by the admission that the technology has yet to make the progress required to put such a car into practice, but the partnership has been set up to speed this along.
At the press conference announcing the partnership, the overriding theme was safety and there were numerous nods to the safety of autonomous cars compared with human drivers. When the Tesla Autopilot crash was mentioned, Krüger used it as an example of why the technologies are not currently ready for real-world use.
Krüger outlined the four main priorities of future motoring as “autonomous, connected, zero emission and sharing” – qualities that are already being pursued across the automotive industry.
Krüger confirmed that any autonomous BMW would still exhibit the values and level of entertainment afforded by today's BMWs. The platform that the three companies are developing will be opened to other car manufacturers that wish to build a car with similar values.
The car's all-electric powertrain will give a range of over 500km, although BMW has not released any further details than this about the car's engine or drive.