BMW has recently announced that it’s slowing down in its EV development and wouldn’t be developing another fully-electric i Division vehicle until 2021. Instead, BMW is planning on amping up its development of autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence.
BMW’s little i3, while a fantastic car, isn’t as popular as BMW had originally hoped, unfortunately. So the Bavarian brand is switching some of its focus to a technology that it thinks is more important at the moment. Self-driving vehicles are becoming a reality faster than we originally anticipated and it’s becoming the next technological race. Every automaker is looking to break into the autonomous vehicle scene, so BMW is trying to become a pioneer before anyone else.
“It is now in ramp-up stage. We call it Project i Next.” said Klaus Froehlich, BMW Board Member.
To help develop its autonomous technology, BMW has hired some people from a Chinese EV startup and is hiring experts in artificial intelligence. BMW is very serious about artificial intelligence, because it wants its self-driving vehicles to act proactively, as opposed to just reacting to what sensors detect. BMW wants its cars to think, understand the rules of the road and drive as human-like as possible.
This sort of technology could probably help most in China, where both traffic and congestion are simply absurd and it’s causing a serious pollution issues and swapping some of those cars out, like taxis or buses, with autonomous vehicles could help reduce both. And being that China has the fastest growing market for EVs, it’s likely that Chinese demand could help push autonomous driving technology. “China is extremely fast implementing technology. Last year more electric cars were sold in China than in all the other global markets combined,” said Froehlich.
But it wouldn’t just be the Chinese market that would benefit from such autonomous vehicles. BMW has been very involved with ride-hailing and car-sharing services lately, such as DriveNow. For ride-hailing services, BMW could have a fleet of autonomous i3s that are able to pick customers up and drop them off, without the need for a driver.
So it’s entirely possible that BMW could, in the future, develop a fleet of quite literal Ultimate Driving Machines. With its newfound emphasis on autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence, it certainly seems like things are headed that way. Hopefully, it doesn’t completely remove the driver from its vehicles in said future.