The day started with a laugh as I watched She Who Must Be Obeyed place a load of dirty clothes in the washer and power the washer up. It ‘sings’ on power up; really, it plays a ‘theme’. Before long you can have an app on the phone that tells you when your washing machine has gone out of balance because of the tennis shoes you’ve thrown in it. It’ll interrupt your dinner at that swank restaurant that your on-board concierge snagged a reservation for as you drove past it earlier. It’s coming, and while the future will be wondrous, it will also, most assuredly, be mundane.
And the future of driving also is undergoing massive change. Chris Bangle, in an interview with BMWBLOG in 2012, tipped us off to the future and we’ve adjusted our vision accordingly – including this scribbler purchasing a few shares of Nvidia stock. Autonomous driving is coming – and sooner than most people realize. And that leads to the press conference last week with BMW, Intel, and Mobileye.
Intel is the most widely recognized maker of silicon intelligence. Mobileye is a provider of software that utilizes silicon intelligence to process incoming visual data streams. Mobileye expects the first fully autonomous car to be on the road by 2021. Next decade – but wait, 2021 is five years from now. That means the first autonomous cars are well along in the initial development and design stages.
It was interesting watching BMW create the i sub-brand, was it to stand for electrification, or was there some bigger context to it. Well we have the answer, the i sub-brand is BMW’s way forward into autonomous driving. BMW has to carve out another niche for itself in the autonomous future if it is to survive and prosper. And that is to provide products in at least two tiers, those that will be used by car hire services, like the BMW and Sixt DriveNow, and also luxury vehicles that individuals will purchase rather than rent.
The problem for car companies is that the infrastructure they’ve spent billions on may not serve them well in the foreseeable future. They will have to radically change how they approach markets – if you understand that Uber and Lyft are currently just placeholders for what they want to become, providers of autonomous mobility, you can grasp the uncertainty of automotive production. In fact you can reasonably argue that car production will drastically decrease with diminished demand for a car in every garage stall when transportation can be summoned effortlessly as needed (roving bands of autonomous vehicles, organized using deep learning to successfully predict where they are needed when) .
BMW has a killer app – the mass production of lightweight carbon fiber body panel process – that they can bring to bear in the new autonomous mobility paradigm. And they’ve parlayed that advantage to their benefit with their partnership with Toyota. What requires some careful consideration is the software architecture used to enable autonomous cars. In an ideal world that software platform will be an open standards platform, not a proprietary solution pursued by each player (and it’s car companies, chip makers, and software developers that are converging to make autonomous cars – no one entity can do everything).
BMW released this in conjunction with its press conference:
“At the BMW Group we always strive for technological leadership. This partnership underscores our Strategy Number ONE > NEXT to shape the individual mobility of the future,” stated Harald Krüger, Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW AG. “Following our investment in high definition live map technology at HERE, the combined expertise of Intel, Mobileye and the BMW Group will deliver the next core building block to bring fully automated driving technology to the street. We have already showcased such groundbreaking solutions in our VISION NEXT 100 vehicle concepts. With this technological leap forward, we are offering our customers a whole new level of sheer driving pleasure whilst pioneering new concepts for premium mobility.”