BMW and Continental team up to develop automated driving "co-pilot" technology


March 21, 2013

BMW and Continental have joined forces to develop technology that will enable highly autonomous freeway driving by 2020

BMW and Continental have joined forces to develop technology that will enable highly autonomous freeway driving by 2020

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German automotive companies BMW and Continental have teamed up to develop self-driving car technology, or as they call it, an “electronic co-pilot” for cars. The main goal of the joint venture is to develop and test technologies that would usher in an era of highly automated driving on European freeways from 2020, with fully automated systems expected from 2025.

Scheduled to run from early 2013 to the end of 2014, the goal of the joint project will be to develop a number of prototype vehicles capable of highly automated freeway driving. When completed, these prototype vehicles will take to European motorways and German autobahns with a selected group of trained test participants behind the wheel in order to test the automated driving functions in typical driving conditions that will include intersections, toll stations, roadworks and national borders.

Both companies have experience when it comes to semi-autonomous systems, with Continental having worked for some time with Mercedes on adaptive cruise control and emergency braking assistance systems. It also participated in the EU research project called HAVEit, where it was responsible for developing a highly automated assist system for driving around traffic jams and roadworks.

Like Google and Audi, Continental also took one of its self-driving car testbeds to Nevada in early 2012, where it became the first automotive components supplier to receive Nevada DMV permission to test on public roads and recorded over 15,000 miles (24,000 km) of highly automated driving.

Meanwhile, BMW has previously demonstrated its BMW TrackTrainer, a self-driving track car that used high-resolution GPS and video data to navigate around race tracks fully autonomously, and the Emergency Stop Assistant, which has some novel attributes, including monitoring the driver for incapacitation. If the vehicle senses through biosensors that the driver is having a medical emergency, such as a heart attack, then it will take over operation and bring the vehicle to a safe stop on the side of the road and call for help.

In mid-2011, BMW also tested a self-driving car on the A9 Motorway between Munich and Nuremberg, where the car mixed in with traffic and obeyed the traffic laws. The BMW test vehicle was equipped with 360-degree LIDAR (laser radar), radar, sonar, and computer vision systems using cameras to detect other cars and monitor traffic. In comparison to the Google self-driving car, which sports a large spinning LIDAR unit on its roof, the autonomous BMW appears much like a standard model.

The joint venture will allow the two companies to pool their previous research and expertize when developing the prototype vehicles. Continental will provide driving environment sensor systems and a safety system designed to ensure the safe operation of the vehicle even in the event of a malfunction, while BMW will build on its TrackTrainer and Emergency Stop Assistant technologies and supply the vehicles.

By concentrating on automated freeway driving, the companies hope to make the technology safe, attractive and affordable for customers. However, they anticipate autonomous driving technologies will be rolled out in stages, with partially automated driving possible from 2016, highly autonomous systems available from 2020, and fully autonomous systems appearing in vehicles from 2025.

BMW and Continental aren't alone in thinking that self-driving car technology will be a major part of our mobility future. Earlier this year Cadillac, Audi, and Mercedes Benz introduced advanced automation and “active driver safety” technology in their automobiles.

Sources: BMW, Continental

About the Author
Francis X Govers III Francis Govers is the designer of over 20 land, sea, air and space vehicles and teaches robotics and the design of self-driving cars. He spent 10 years at NASA, helped design the International Space Station, participated in the DARPA Grand Challenge, and managed the only Zeppelin operating in the US. As a commercial pilot, writer, artist, musician, engineer, race car nut and designer, Francis has a serious addiction to building things that frequently gets him into trouble. All articles by Francis X Govers III

I cannot see that cars will ever become fully self-driving; there are just far too many potential events that will need human intervention in order to avoid an accident.

However, it is obvious that we can move in the direction of self-driving capability as long as the driver has to remain hands on (not as shown in the above photo) and alert ready to provide input should things go wrong with the system, especially if Microsoft have any computing input!

Mel Tisdale


Well, maybe there is an option for a partial auto-control? Like letting the car to self drive only on the highways, where chance of something going wrong are low.

Maxim Chanturiay

This technology should Not be made. If you want to be driven somewhere take a taxi cab. There are way to many bad drivers on the road already. If you need a co-pilot you shouldn't be on any freeway, road or side street. In NYC alone I wish the driving tests were harder. There are still idiots driving in the wrong lane to pass and hold up traffic in the passing lane.


If we all switch over then it will be safer. People should cross the road at crossings.

Seth Kazzim
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