BMW is working on self-driving or "autonomous" cars, and has a new prototype based on the 5 Series and packed with the “Highly Automated Driving” technology.
I'm not sure how this fits in with the idea of the Ultimate Driving Machine, but the plan is that eventually cars will be able to brake, accelerate and pass other vehicles, without driver input, and monitor and adapt to traffic conditions. The prototype has already logged more than 3,000 miles, with no driver involvement, thanks to intelligent software, vision assistance and environment detection systems.
One of the greatest challenges in the project involved reacting to vehicles merging on to a highway. The system reacts by allowing the merging vehicles to join the traffic flow, and it can even change lanes if need be, at speeds up to 80 mph. By accessing digital maps, the camera, and the extremely precise GPS, the automated vehicle knows its location in its own lane, and it receives exact information about the route ahead, including the number of lanes.
Objects in front of the vehicle are detected by radar sensors in the adaptive cruise-control system and by a laser scanner. It can also "see" objects at the sides or rear of the vehicle. BMW points out that the system is designed for highway use only, and that the driver is still responsible for his or her situation and must pay attention to surrounding traffic.
Volkswagen is working on a similar system, but it's hard to get too excited about not driving a car. There's a certain Speed Racer element to this, which suggests that the car might wake you up when it comes to a washed-out bridge in the middle of Montana at night. Or maybe not. "I'm sorry Dave, I can't do that. You haven't been very nice to me."—Paul Duchene
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