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In 2013, BMW shared a wild plan for the future with us: cars that drive without a driver. We hitch a ride in a specially prepared BMW 5-series with a driver who deliberately keeps his hands in the air. Here comes the self-driving car!
The idea of the self-driving car is of course not new in 2013. When the first cars with adaptive cruise control came onto the market ten years earlier, some people already dreamed of cars that cruised automatically. The driver would have breakfast behind the wheel in peace, then shave and arrive at the office rested. But technologically speaking, it is a giant step from a car that automatically adjusts its speed to that of the vehicle in front, to a car that ‘sees’ the entire road and changes lanes independently.
Trunk full of computers
The modified 5-series in which BMW moves us autonomously on the autobahn in 2013 has a trunk full of computers. Funny, with new car technology it is always the trunk that gets damaged. This was also the case with the first cars with air conditioning, where the cooling technology also took up the entire luggage compartment.
All those computers are needed to process the input from the countless sensors. A screen on the dashboard shows how the car ‘sees’ the road: there are four lanes and the lane we are driving on is blue. The other cars and trucks move across the screen as dark blue blocks. When we pass a merging lane, the 5-series accelerates to make room for an merging block.
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Tesla works the same
At the time we were amazed (there is indeed a truck driving there, the screen is right), but nowadays it is very normal for you to see what the car observes. Teslas in particular are known for their screen showing how your car moves through traffic. The dark blue blocks have been exchanged for pictures of cars and trucks, but the concept is the same. However, the computers are now so powerful and compact that they do not cost you any luggage space.
Our look back also shows how little has actually changed in ten years. In 2013, the law does not yet allow a fully self-driving car. And that is still the case. The technology is there, but the legislation is not. BMW predicted then that it would take a long time, about fifteen years even. In that respect, everything is still going according to BMW’s plan. But we will speak to you again in 2028.