In an effort to reduce the cost and lead time of autonomous driving technology, the two German titans, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, joined forces earlier this year. The two companies committed 1,200 autonomous technicians, built a trio of self-driving test centers in Germany, and are sharing a data storage center dedicated to the tech. The group is attempting to build driver assist programming in rapid fashion.
This accelerated timeline has convinced both companies that they can commit to a release date. BMW has announced that it plans to release a Level 3 autonomous car in 2021, while both Mercedes and BMW plan to have Level 4 in a production car by 2024, according to Engadget.
Audi currently says its Traffic Jam Pilot, a system that uses a combination of cameras, radar, lidar, and near-AI powerful computers, carries the capabilities of Level 3, but rollout has been slow [it was announced two years ago] and it still is not available in the U.S. market. If the other Germans say Level 3 is still two years away, Audi may have an appreciable head start on them.
That said, Level 4 is a high level of automation. One which allows the car to operate without human input within a certain set of circumstances, such as inside a geofenced area, or restricted to a specific [for example highways] type of road. Level 4 autonomy is a difficult goal to achieve, especially within 5 years, as not much progress has been made in recent years. Google’s Firefly was produced without pedals or a steering wheel, but it was limited to a top speed of 25 miles per hour. BMW and Mercedes promise a similar level of autonomy, but at Autobahn speeds.
The simple answer, in my eyes, is that AI tech has a long way to go to catch up to the level of information that the human brain can process. While 50% of us are below average drivers, by mathematical necessity, even those below average drivers are better at panic situations, scanning for potential hazards, and just plain driving, than computers currently can be. BMW and Mercedes will have to do an awful lot of work to not only make this production ready, but to convince drivers that the tech is safe and capable.
Does anyone actually want an autonomous car? Does anyone actually want to pay for this tech? I know I don’t.