The BMW Group as well as the entire automotive industry experience a challenging but at the same time also an exciting development in their industry. We are in the middle of the fourth industry revolution in which digitalization and connectivity set the pace. For the automotive industry, the development of self-driving cars is the key challenge over the next five years. While some car manufacturers are aggressively promoting self-driving cars, others tend to be more cautious. In order to learn more about the current developments at the BMW Group, we sat down with Dr. Dirk Wisselmann, Senior Expert for Autonomous Driving at BMW.

We started the interview with probably the most obvious question to all BMW enthusiasts out there. Is the brand able to keep their iconic identity of sheer driving pleasure in the world of autonomous driving? “Definitely!” was the prompt answer. “Our cars will emphasize the sheer driving pleasure BMW is known for also in the future. In addition we will offer autonomous driving to support and assist the driver on long journeys or while driving in stop and go traffic”.

Furthermore Dr. Wisselmann says that autonomous driving would be rolled out to other modes past 2021 and that autonomous driving is not necessarily linked to combustion engines. “Autonomous driving will become an option for our entire model range in the future. There will be no special model called “autonomous driving,” he added. The idea behind it: Allocation of the development costs to a high production number and making the technology available for every model.

Before we discussed the timeline for autonomous driving, we took a look back in time. Dr. Wisselmann explained that BMW has already made significant steps towards self-driving technologies. “Back in 2006 we presented a self-driving BMW 3 Series model. The car was capable of driving hot laps at the Hockenheim race track. However, the timing wasn’t yet right for this technology.”

Currently the timing seems perfect and while the BMW iNEXT is scheduled to arrive in 2021, Dr. Wisselmann confirmed the series development and stated “Our target is to offer autonomous driving of Level 3 at cruising speeds of 130 km/h (80.7 mph) for the iNEXT”. Level 3 is defined as highly automated driving, while the driver is able to perform other activities (“eyes off”). However, the driver must be able to take over the control at any time. By the end of 2017, BMW plans to start road tests with a fleet of 40 highly automated and fully automated BMW 7 Series models in Germany, Israel and the United States.

The big difference between the iNEXT and conventional cars, such as the all-new BMW 5 Series generation, will be the underlying concept of the hard- and software components and their interaction. “The system architecture of the iNEXT is developed in a duplicated design. We will always have two systems which are monitoring their results against each other. In case of fail operational, as we call it, the car will immediately slow down and inform the driver to take over the control via the steering wheel. In any case it will be possible to continue driving with the vehicle.”

Coming from the cars system architecture, we discussed the engine technology for autonomous cars. “We don’t see any technical necessity to link autonomous driving to an electric-powered car. The BMW iNEXT will be offered with our well-known combustion engines and as a fully electric car.”

At the end of the interview, we touched the ethical dilemma connected to autonomous driving. Dr. Wisselmann stated that: “BMW will not develop a software algorithm which is counterbalancing lives against each other. In the case of an unavoidable accident, the car will always initiate an emergency stop and try to reduce the impact as much as possible.” According to BMW’s accident research, such specific accident situations are simply non-existent in real-life traffic.