LAS VEGAS — BMW has a refreshing take on self-driving cars.
The company is one of several major carmakers at CES showing their latest work on autonomous cars, as well as software to remotely control and manage vehicles.
But BMW’s goal isn’t to remove drivers from the picture and create completely robotic vehicles. Instead, it is pursuing a hybrid model in which drivers will remain in control and be able to toggle back and forth between normal and autonomous driving.
BMW’s idea is to remove the tedious parts of driving, such as driving long stretches of monotonous highway, according to Yves Pilat, an engineer developing the system for BMW.
Once outfitted with sensors and software synchronized with phones, smartwatches, tablets and even TV sets, cars can perform all sorts of other tricks and conveniences.
BMW demonstrated how you can plan a driving route from the TV set, and how proximity sensors will unlock a car when a smartwatch-wearing driver approaches. The same system can light up the car when you’re nearby, to help find it in a parking garage.
But the best trick on display at CES is a parking valet system added to a handful of i3 models at CES.
The cars can drop you off and then park themselves in a nearby parking garage, assuming the garage has been mapped properly.
When it’s time to leave, you launch an app on your watch, swipe upward and the car drives itself to your location.
The system blends digital maps, connectivity and sensors that can park the car it within inches of an adjacent car or obstacle.
Already, BMW and other carmakers add sensors to some vehicles so they can warn drivers about potential collisions on the road. It will take more than a software upgrade to make them autonomous, though. They’ll need additional sensors, Pilat said.
Here Pilat points out the sensor used on the i3, which by the way is made partly from carbon-fiber material produced in Moses Lake:
Pilat estimated that such self-parking cars could be available for puchase in about seven years.
The company also had an i3 equipped with an autonomous collision avoidance system. To demonstrate, a driver would zoom toward obstacles — large blocks in a parking lot — and the car would automatically slow to a halt when it got too close.
Making the cars stop is one thing. The trick, demonstrators explained, is making the cars brake gradually enough that it’s not jarring, yet still fast enough to avoid the crash.
Here’s the laser sensor used on the collision avoidance demo vehicle:
Speaking of fast, it will be awhile before you can be Batman and have your self-driving car come racing to your side when summoned.
At this point the self-parking i3 models, for safety reasons, go only about 2.5 miles per hour when driving themselves to and from their parking spot.