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Inside BMW's Autonomous Driving Campus and plans

Inside BMW's Autonomous Driving Campus and plans
From Engadget - April 16, 2018

"The idea is that we really have to develop a car today on a highly sophisticated level."

We are sitting in the automaker's latest research center built specifically for that highly sophisticated car. Or in BMW's case, two cars. One is the all-electric level 3 iNext that will be sold to the public. On the highway, the car should be able to drive itself under set circumstances.

The other is a fleet vehicle with level 4 (and potentially level 5) capabilities that will be part of BMW's upcoming branded ride-hailing service.

The automaker plans on delivering both of these vehicles in 2021. BMW has been erring on the side of caution when it comes to autonomy (I am reminded of this multiple times while in Munich). Who can blame them with the recent Uber tragedy and Tesla Model S accident?

It's important to remember that cars are not phones or laptops or even electric push scooters. Sure the technology inside automobiles is advancing far quicker than ever, but automakers still have to produce software and hardware solutions that appease regulators and, more importantly, keep drivers safe.

When a smartphone freezes up, you just restart it. When a car freezes up at 80 miles an hour on the freeway, it's suddenly an uncontrollable death machine. So whatever resources BMW wants to throw at autonomous car research are welcome.

But making sure the automaker's 2021 plans (and beyond) come to fruition means it's decided to go all in on self-driving research. With that in mind, BMW opened its Autonomous Driving Campus near its headquarters in Munich, Germany, this week. The facility's 23,000 square meters (5.6 acres) will eventually accommodate 1,800 employees and 500 vehicles.

While I attended the grand opening of the campus (that's still under construction), there are already employees at the site working. During a tour of one of the completed buildings, the automaker showed off how it plans to achieve autonomy in the future and change the way it works. Instead of a single team working on an entire system, sub-tasks (features of a system) are assigned to various departments to tackle problems in a fast-paced environment. BMW compared it to how startups work and touted how agile this will allow them to be.

The automaker noted that since deploying its test fleet in California, it has racked up 24 million kilometers (14.9 million miles) in data. But 95 percent of those miles were tested in a proprietary BMW simulator using data from its test cars, Pegasus the open-source scenario database, and a scenario editor. The result is something that looks like a video game where researchers fine-tune edge case situations to see how BMW's AI reacts to certain events.

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