German luxury automaker teams up with tech giants to fast-track launch of flagship iNext model

BMW AG is teaming up with chipmaker Intel Corp. and camera-software company Mobileye NV to bring self-driving cars to the road by 2021, becoming the first major automaker to set a specific date to produce a fully autonomous vehicle.

The technology will be used in the iNext, set to supplant the 7-Series sedan as BMW’s flagship model, the company said Friday. The iNext will be a basis for “fleets of fully autonomous vehicles” to cruise highways and eventually also be available as robo-taxis in cities, BMW said. The platform will be open for other carmakers and technology companies to use.

“Given the players involved, this will likely become the industry standard,” Arndt Ellinghorst, a London-based analyst for Evercore ISI, wrote in an email. “Today could be transformational for individual mobility. Mark your calendar.”

The biggest luxury carmaker setting a date for its self-driving debut will put pressure on rivals, including Tesla Motors Inc. and Mercedes-Benz, as manufacturers strive to fend off competition not only within the industry but also from the likes of Uber Technologies Inc. and Google. Robo-taxis will make up 40 per cent of automotive profits by 2030, more than selling vehicles to individuals, according to consulting company Roland Berger.

The coalition with Intel and Mobileye is “the next core building block to bring fully automated driving technology to the street,” BMW chief executive officer Harald Krueger said in the statement. The companies didn’t release financial details on the co-operation.

BMW’s partnership comes as a fatal accident in the U.S. involving a Tesla sedan driving on the car’s so-called Autopilot fuels the debate over whether self-driving cars are ready for the real world. U.S. regulators are investigating the crash, which killed a 40-year-old Ohio man when his 2015 Model S drove under the trailer of an 18-wheeler.

Tesla uses Mobileye’s technology in its Autopilot, which it started to introduce in October as a step toward autonomous cars. In the fatal crash, the company said, neither the system nor the driver saw the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky. The equipment in the Tesla that crashed is designed to prevent rear-end collisions, not avoid vehicles crossing laterally, Mobileye said in a statement. Its systems will be able to see and react to lateral traffic beginning in 2018, the company said.

Autopilot is one of a range of technologies meant to be stepping-stones toward completely autonomous vehicles. BMW already offers a self-parking feature, while Daimler AG’s Mercedes E-Class can steer itself on the highway — though the driver is supposed to keep his or her hands on the wheel.

Enabling vehicles to navigate without human input through complex settings such as city centres requires them to see and understand situations more like humans do. BMW’s deal with Intel and Mobileye brings together companies with expertise in cameras that can model the driving surroundings and computing capabilities to power artificial intelligence.

Mobileye is already working with General Motors Co., Volkswagen AG and Nissan Motor Co. on mapping technology that gathers crowdsourced real-time data from automakers’ fleets of vehicles.

“Highly autonomous cars and everything they connect to will require powerful and reliable electronic brains,” Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said in the statement