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BMW’s standalone driverless team working on autonomous vehicle for 2021 launch

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BMW will introduce a fully autonomous vehicle in 2021, building on the technologies of the current 7 and 5 Series vehicles that now offer semi-autonomous driving features.

Speaking to CarAdvice at the international launch of the new 5 Series, the head of the model’s project, Jochan Kistler, admitted that the current cars on offer do not have the capacity to offer fully autonomous driving, with the bottleneck being the mapping data and software development.

“We work on it so we can build an autonomous car in 2021. It needs a few steps and of course, I think it’s necessary to have high-quality maps. Without high-quality maps [it’s not possible]” Kistler said.

Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz recently purchased Nokia’s Here mapping system together, with the three German brands all utilising the data for their navigation and autonomous driving technologies.

“We have to do it all over the world – it’s not possible to have it in Sydney and nowhere else [for example]. We have a joint venture. Nokia Here, the map is basic, and so we decided to do this with competitors. So you have to do it all over the world, not only in big cities,” he said.

“You have to do it in the countryside and so on, and it’s really important to bring the high-quality maps and to have it available all over the world – but the way you act with this data is by our own. So we have the same data [as Mercedes-Benz and Audi], but how to do it… it will be a special BMW solution.”

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BMW has launched an entirely new team just to tackle autonomous technologies, even changing the way in which it deals with suppliers.

“For autonomous drive, now we start a new division with a lot of people and with a different model on how we are working together with suppliers, of course we work together and are very experienced in this for a lot of years.

“But, to think about new things we are also sure we have to think about new ways to work with someone, maybe flexible, maybe in a flexible way, so if we decided to start with a project to bring autonomous driving in 2021, we decided to have a standalone division [which is] not within our standard process.”

Asked how the likes of Tesla have managed to push out autonomous driving technologies ahead of companies such as BMW, Kistler said that it takes BMW over four million kilometres of testing before introducing a new model with new technologies and that he’s uncertain “if this is the same with Tesla”.

Also, according to Kistler, customers are more likely to forgive Tesla as they were the first in the market with proper autonomous driving.

“I think this is really important thing if you are the first one… maybe [customers] except some deviations”.

The current BMW 5 and 7 Series are able to maintain their position in a lane on a clearly marked highway and, for the 5 Series, it is be able to change lanes on its own. It’s likely that BMW will use the introduction of the next 7 Series in 2021 to showcase its first fully autonomous vehicle.

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