Hands-free driving, under certain circumstances, will soon be a reality for some BMW drivers in Germany.
The BMW Personal Pilot L3, with Level 3 autonomous driving capability as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), will soon be offered in certain 7 Series models in that market as a 6,000 euro (R120,000) option.
It allows drivers to take their hands off the wheel and their attention off the road at speeds of up to 60km/h on motorways with structurally separated carriageways. It is also the first system of its kind that can be used in the dark, BMW says.
The BMW Highway Assistant already offers advanced Level 2 partially automated driving in new BMW 5 Series models, complete with the innovative Active Lane Change Assistant with eye confirmation.
The crucial difference between Level 2 and Level 3 is that with Level 2 (partially automated driving) responsibility continues to lie with the driver at all times. When the BMW Highway Assistant is in use, drivers must watch what is happening on the road and be able to take over the task of driving again at all times. This is continuously monitored using an intelligent attentiveness camera.
The BMW Personal Pilot L3, for Level 3 highly automated driving in the BMW 7 Series, gives drivers the option of concentrating on secondary in-vehicle activities away from what is happening on the road.
With the L3 system activated drivers will be able to stream videos or edit e-mails, for instance, or engage more deeply in phone calls while travelling at up to 60km/h. This makes it ideal for slow-moving traffic during daily highway commutes.
It is activated or deactivated via a button on the steering wheel, and symbols on the display behind the steering wheel tell the driver whether it is available under present driving conditions.
However, even when it is active, the driver still has to be ready to take over control when the vehicle signals that this is necessary. Failing that the vehicle will be brought to a controlled stop.
BMW says the L3 system is made possible by latest-generation ultrasonic sensors and radar sensors and a highly sensitive 3D lidar sensor for monitoring the area around the vehicle and the situation on the road. It also works in conjunction with live HD maps and an extremely accurate GPS.
It’s not yet known when this auto driving package will be available in markets outside of Germany. The legalities in various countries will no doubt also determine its potential availability.