BMW will team with computer processor giant Intel and video specialist MobilEye to produce true self-driving cars for the Chinese market by 2021, according to Maximilian Doemling, senior manager for highly automated driving at BMW.
The three partners announced their intended schedule at a Munich press conference last month, then Doemling told attendees at last week's International Conference on Computer Systems and Communication Technology in China that Chinese customers would be the first to get the robot cars.
BMW calls its autonomous model the iNEXT (at least, until Apple's lawyers have a word with them about that name), promising that the car heralds a new era of mobility.
Today's Tesla Model S has achieved “eyes off” capability (termed "level 3"), with the industry working toward a Level 4 “mind off” (level 4) level in the next few years, to be followed by Level 5 “driver off” cars without a human driver inside by 2021 on BMW's ambitious timetable.
Audi of America president Scott Keough told journalists at a briefing last week to expect Level 5 cars closer 2025.
"If you're expecting autonomous function where you can be on the highway, pressing the button and the car is doing everything for you, like lane changing and driving and that stuff, and you can play with smartphone, and you're always safe," Doemling told attendees at the Chinese conference, according to the Chinese English-language news site CRIEnglish.com.
The Chinese market is an attractive one for carmakers to establish the technology, because of the country's legal environment where the government can establish rules without concern about popular readiness or legal liability.
So watch for BMW's autonomous cars to cut their teeth in China before inevitably making their way to the U.S.