Dr. Nicolai Martin is in charge of a stimulating and highly complex area of innovation at the BMW Group, namely Automated Driving Development.
It is his job to deal with questions such as: what degree of automation is useful? What does the future of automation really hold for the customer? And, most importantly: what route is BMW taking to automated driving? This interview offers intriguing insights, highlights the latest developments and outlines ideas for the future.
1. Dr. Martin, you are an engineer at heart. What is your driving force? I enjoy getting to the bottom of things and understanding them. Competitive sport, namely windsurfing, all the way up to Olympic level was a genuine career option, but in the end industrial engineering and automotive engineering came out on top. I love the sort of challenges and problems you have to really get to grips with and are complex and relevant to society at the same time.
I am fortunate enough to be working with a great team on one of the most relevant assignments for the future of automotive mobility: automated driving. On the one hand, we actively promote the development of innovative technologies and conduct research that is virtually of academic standard. But we also carefully consider which of the potential applications we’re actually going to implement in order to offer customers worldwide genuine added value.
2. What added value is offered by a car with automated driving capability? Automation basically enhances comfort and safety, as the system drives the car consistently, whereas we as humans tend not to. For example, we have observed that drivers in Europe who have our Driving Assistant Professional system in their car are already driving for approx. 50 per cent of the time with the longitudinal guidance function activated.
The figure for lateral guidance is lower, but it is still used for 30 per cent of the driving time at present (calculated from 120 million kilometres / approx. 31.35 million miles driven by our customers). That’s a lot. The conclusion we draw from this is that we have created a function that truly offers added value.
3. What role will automated driving play in future in the context of personal mobility? A vehicle’s intelligence will become increasingly important in future. Automation of the task of driving has an instrumental role to play here. What started out with more minor features, such as automatic control of the lighting functions, has today already progressed to assisted longitudinal and lateral vehicle control.
When driving from Munich to Tuscany for a holiday, for example, not only does the system take care of switching the headlights on and off when passing through the numerous tunnels en route, it also keeps the vehicle within the speed limits and at a safe distance from vehicles ahead.
4. How far has BMW progressed with automated driving? We already have around 40 driver assistance functions in our vehicles that are rated among the best on the market. These encompass everything from the High Beam Assistant and the rear-view camera to intelligent cruise control with longitudinal and lateral guidance, complete with traffic light recognition.
On the active safety side, our driver assistance systems help us to achieve the highest 5 star NCAP rating, while the top-spec Driving Assistant Professional has already won awards. In the USA and China, for instance, we offer a “hands-off” option, which lets the driver take their hands off the steering wheel (up to 60 km/h / 37 mph), although they must continue to monitor the driving situation and remain responsible for the car.
5. And when will BMW begin offering Level 3 to customers? Our automated assistance functions already perform a significant part of the driving and parking task in many situations. But the driver must still monitor the vehicle’s surroundings and is always fully responsible for how the vehicle is being driven. We have already introduced driverless parking for vehicles in the form of the Remote Control Parking function.
However, here too the driver has to monitor their vehicle and the area around it via smartphone or the vehicle key, and they are still responsible for the vehicle. We will not offer Level 3 functionality (where responsibility passes from human to machine) in our vehicles until it is absolutely safe and offers added value. The system must react safely in extreme situations – the “corner cases” as they are known.
6. Does your approach differ to that of your competitors? In other words, is there a “BMW route” to automated driving? We are developing automated driving with a clear objective: to offer our customers greater safety and comfort. The BMW Group primarily sees technology as an enabler for using automated driving and parking functions to create a positive and emotionally engaging experience for our customers.
In my view, BMW will in future embody the ideal blend between the world of automated driving, or “Ease” as we call it, and the pleasure of driving yourself, known simply as “Boost”. Every customer should be able to decide for themselves whether they want to take the wheel and enjoy some dynamic driving pleasure or prefer to hand over the driving task in certain stressful or joyless driving situations – such as traffic jams, stop-start traffic or parking – and use that time for something else.
7. What can we expect from the all-electric BMW iX in terms of automated functions? The BMW iX is the first model from the BMW Group to offer automated driving and parking functions based on a new technology toolkit. This toolkit will enable continuous improvement and expansion of the driver assistance functions and, in the medium term, highly automated driving (Level 3).
In the BMW iX we are also creating real added value for customers by grouping together individual automated assistance functions intelligently and according to relevant driving situations. The new BMW Operating System 8 makes our driver assistance functions even more user-friendly. At the same time, we have reduced controls to the essentials, ensuring that the driver can activate the optimal degree of assistance quickly. Our focus here is on overall, intelligent automation, simplification of system status and intuitive operation.