Handsfree Driving – BMW’s 330i autonomous Track Trainer

Interesting | May 28th, 2011 by 5
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A few selected journalists were invited at Laguna Seca to “try on” the BMW 330i Track Trainer. You might remember the Track Trainer from an …

A few selected journalists were invited at Laguna Seca to “try on” the BMW 330i Track Trainer. You might remember the Track Trainer from an episode of Top Gear, where Jeremy Clarkson sat in the autonomous 330i.

Coming directly from Nürburgring, the BMW 330i Track Trainer made its North American appearance. The autonomous car is built on the standard production of the 330i model, but the software underlying the vehicle is quite special. Utilizing a combination of built-in GPS, a signal booster and accompanying repeater (increasing bandwidth and accuracy down to the centimeter), a custom map of the track and a trained driver to show it the optimum racing line, the Track Trainer learns the course and can show budding racers how to do it right.

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The software is made out of complex algorithm to determine theoretical grip, while wheel speed and spin sensors send data to the computers to interpret the exact amount of suspension load, power delivery and braking force necessary to keep it out of the weeds. A driver feedback display mounted on the center console shows drivers how close the car is to the optimal line while in control.

It its lifetime, the 330i Track Trainer has already accumulated 12,000 miles of testing.

According to Autoblog, average lap times at Laguna Seca with the system set between 85- and 95-percent ran in the low two-minute range. The car was also running at Hockenheim and the notorious Nordschleife. It is limited only to tracks that have been programmed into it.

In development since 2006, BMW began to show off this tech to the board and the press, finally bringing it to the Nordschleife in 2009 packing a new camera system that measured the exact width of the track and inputted the data into a reconfigured autonomous driving program.

Autoblog brings us a video test review.

5 responses to “Handsfree Driving – BMW’s 330i autonomous Track Trainer”

  1. La Ma says:

    scary, very scary. it will be the future though.  hope I will still have my cars for a long long time.
    It is for complete morons who can’t even learn to drive a car. 

  2. Nnnn says:

    This is great stuff.  There are so many implications for this level of capability, and track training is just one we’ve never thought of.  Some other companies are working on this as well, including google — it would be interesting to see a comparison and the different scenarios being studied.

    Here’s one I’d like to see:   road surface mapping, so the car can pro-actively adjust the suspension to known road defects, so that the same potholes don’t hammer me on every single commute.    Or a valet function, so I can park in the most desolate (safe) parking space and have it pick me up when I’m ready.   Or an automated “j-turn” button for complicated intersections.

    Also, GPS doesn’t have anywhere near 1cm accuracy – you can only achieve that by combining multiple sensor types and interpolating the car’s position and orientation.  But GPS gives you absolute positioning, whereas others measure acceleration, direction or relative motion, so this self-driving feature won’t work in tunnels, parking garages, or on city streets surrounded by tall buildings.

    • Nzapp2009 says:

      Have to disagree – multiple sampling on GPS, or “repeating” can drive your absolute accuracy down into the cm range.  Also note that they’re combining absolute reckoning via GPS with inertial nav and image manipulations.  That should mean that in a tunnel or downtown the car could (or maybe is heading towards, only BMW knows) drive the same way you do, but staying between the lines and away from obstacles, seeing green lights turn to red, etc., etc.  That seems in fact like it’s really the important part.  We can all see in principle how to teach a vehicle to follow a GPS path, people (DoD, NASA, DARPA, etc) have been doing that kind of thing for a very long time.  The interesting part is to translate all of the little ways that you and I drive a car (lines, obstacles, lights, signs, pedestrians, reactions, contingencies, merging, etc., etc.) to fuzzy or maybe true parallel streamed mc code so that it’s doing what you would do – only much, much faster.  So downstream envision “auto cars”, which can routinely, safely, and reliably carry you wherever you want to go at an average speed of maybe 150 mph without you touching a thing, using essentially today’s roadway infrastructure at a much lower injury/fatality rate than today’s roads. 

      Here’s a slightly less appealing thought, though – what about the same kind of “program what you would do” kind of logic applied to the military?  How many scenarios can you dream up based on the principle of a smart killing machine, say like a tank only with no people required, occupying a country for example without risking a single life?  Seen the Terminator movies?  Still seem like it’s 300 years from now?  Or air travel?  How long until there’s no market for civilian pilots?  Wide application base to tech. like this.

      Remember for example that these “brand new” stealth aircraft, etc. have really been in service for almost twenty years at this point, so if you’re watching BMW teach a car to drive, you can bet somewhere else there’s someone with a great deal of experience with this basic idea.  By the way, just so it’s clear, I’m not one of these folks suggesting Armaggedon because of a 330 (by the way, use and M5 for God’s sake) going around the ring, or looking for “the man” in every little thing, I just think it’s interesting to think about the gap that’s naturally sometimes between what we know about and what the state of the art really is somewhere and what kind of toys might really be coming.  You can bet that no matter what, someone working “in the interest of national security” has way better toys than you know about, and they’re usually about twenty years ahead of you, and I’m perfectly happy with that.

      One more thing comes to mind – remember the humanoid robot Honda put together?  Wouldn’t it seem like they’d already have to have done most of this inertial/reaction kind of work in order to have that little guy walk up and down stairs?  Just wondering how new this is, who’s really out in front. 

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