Werner Huber, the person in charge for BMW autonomous driving project said that it was the most impressive experience they could offer and the company aims to be one of the first in the world to introduce highway autonomy.
BMW has been testing its autonomous technology by using its BMW 5 series on a test track north of the city of Munich. Safety has been the priority of the company. In such, it is implemented in the system that whenever human driver grab the wheel, whatever the human driver behaviour will override the behaviour of the system. On top of that if everything fails, there is a big red button on the dashboard which is able to cut power of all the car’s computers. This is to cater of potential scenarios which the system may not able to handle.
As BMW 5 Series travelled on the road, whatever the car sees, the car’s passengers able to see it on the dashboard. If there are three lanes on the road, the dashboard will show as it is with a bunch of floating blue blocks which corresponds to a nearby vehicle or barriers on either side of the road.
BMW 5 series autonomous car looks like any normal luxury car with its sleek appearance. However, two laser scanners and three radar sensors are installed at the front and rear bumpers to monitor the road before and behind in radius of within 200 metres. Cameras are installed at the top of the windshield and rear window to track road markings and road signs. Wide angle laser scanners, each with almost 180 degrees of vision, are installed near each side mirror to monitor the road at the left and right side of the car. Four ultrasonic sensors above the wheels installed to monitor the area close to the car. Last but not least, Global Positioning System receiver which combines signals from ground-based stations with those from satellites will be able to track the car within a few centimetres of the closest lane marking.
All these inputs are essential for the car’s software to perform real time measurements and calculations. On top of that, the software is also designed to use probability to cancel out inaccuracies in sensor readings and make decisions whether to switch to another lane, attempt to pass the car ahead or get out of the way of the vehicle approaching from behind. After it makes its decision, it will then relay the command to other part of the system which controls the acceleration, braking and steering. Another separate system will monitor the driving behaviours for signs of malfunction.
There are still a few challenges for the autonomous cars to be available for public usage. One of it is costs. As all the sensors that are used in making autonomous cars such as LIDAR, which is used in Google’s autonomous cars, are expensive but it provides the most accurate data. Another challenge is the rules and regulations. Two major international treaties for the cars to be used in Europe and United States, the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic and the Geneva Convention on Road Traffic might need to be changed for the clause which stated that a driver must be in full control of a vehicle at all times.
Despite all these challenges, there are also benefits of autonomous cars. One of them is that the human driver can use the time to drive for other activities such as texting, reading, having meetings. On top of that, autonomous cars will also help to reduce accidents.