BMW iX is not yet ready for Level 3 autonomous driving

BMW is on track for launching its first all-electric SUV, the BMW iX, later this year. However, contrary to the claims made at the time of the announcement of the project back in 2018 in the form of the iNext concept car, the iX isn’t featuring the level 3 autonomous driving system – at least for the time being. We learn this reading a conversation between Frank Weber, head of R&D at BMW, and Topgear. The company intends to roll out the technology next year.

Factors affecting the development

As per Weber, BMW is working on the technicalities of equipping the level 3 autonomous driving system in the iX, for which the vehicle needs to undergo 700 million kilometers of testing before type approval. Currently, all the new generation BMW cars, including the iX, are equipped with a level 2 autonomous driving system. 

BMW iX rear three quarter
Though it is not ready yet, the level 3 autonomous driving system will make its way into the iX eventually. Image: BMW

BMW is also eyeing a clearer regulator framework for the application of Level 3 autonomous driving system for the iX. Currently, as per EU, cars with Level 3 autonomous driving system can only be driven up to the speed of 38 mph (60 km/h) after engaging the system. Given the unpredictability of traffic and pedestrians, say in a town center, where the iX has to make its way through cars or pedestrians from all directions, it is hard to achieve Level 3 at the moment. As Weber puts it, “You have to prove you are at or better than a human driver’s safety.”

Driver assistance systems on the BMW iX

Currently, the production-spec BMW iX employs five cameras (including an 8 MPix front camera), five radar sensors, and 12 ultrasonic sensors for assessing traffic signs, other vehicles, and pedestrians for its driver assistance systems. The driver assistance systems of the BMW iX, falling under level 2 autonomous systems, include the latest versions of active cruise control with distance control and steering and lane control assist.

BMW iX interior
The BMW iX features active cruise control with distance control and steering and lane control assist. Image: BMW

Here, the active cruise control calculates the distance between another vehicle in the front and adjusts the distance between two vehicles. On the other hand, the steering and lane control assist takes information from lane markings and vehicles moving ahead and maintains the directional stability of the vehicle. All these works are done with the help of data sourced from the front and side-mounted cameras and sensors.

What is a level 3 autonomous driving system in general?

Defined by SAE International, the level 3 autonomous driving system is a combination of various driver assistance systems as well as artificial intelligence. This combination allows the car equipped with it to make decisions on the basis of its consistently changing surroundings (other vehicles, traffic signs and pedestrians), on its own.

Compared to the level 2 autonomous driving system, the level 3 is an advanced step, as it eradicates direct involvement of the driver for controlling the support features when they are engaged. In the level 2 system, the driver needs to constantly monitor the support features by steering, braking and accelerating himself/herself, some things which a level 3-equipped car can do by itself until all pre-set conditions are met. However, for optimal working of the system, at least one person must be seated inside the vehicle to take control of the vehicle in emergency systems, especially in case of system failures.