BMW declared it has the recipe to win the self-driving car race at the Consumer Electronics Show on Wednesday.
The company said it will test 40 self-driving cars in the second half of 2017 through a partnership with Intel and Mobileye. The partnership, first announced in July, will allow the trio to collect data in order to release a production-ready, self-driving car in 2021.
But the most significant part of BMW’s announcement was that it has made a “scalable architecture” that other automakers can choose to adopt to help collect data.
Data collection is a vital part of developing self-driving technology. Data on everything from how traffic flows on a highway to how cars react on a snowy road helps self-driving cars learn to react to different situations. The more data self-driving cars have to work with, the faster they learn to handle more difficult driving situations.
Unlike some of its rivals, BMW is looking to crowdsource this data.
“Rather than trying to set us apart from the world, we tell the world to come and join us,” Amnon Shashua, co-founder and CTO of Mobileye, said at CES. “There’s lots to be gained by sharing data, sharing resources.”
BMW teamed up with Mercedes and Audi to acquire HERE, the former mapping division of Nokia, in September. Doing so allows the automakers to share real-time data on things like traffic flow and inclement weathers so the cars can respond faster and smarter.
Naturally, BMW isn’t the only company taking this approach. Google acquired Waze, a traffic and navigation app, in 2013. Now anyone who is driving around with Waze open on their phone is providing real-time data on traffic conditions and roads that Waymo, Google’s self-driving car company, can use for autonomous navigation.
The beauty of Waze has been that it isn’t limited by which vehicle you drive, making it the company to beat when it comes to mapping systems for self-driving cars. BMW clearly recognises that drawing data from just its own cars isn’t enough, hence why it’s continuing to expand the number of companies it works with to collect data.
“What really sets us apart is this is the first inclusive program I’m aware of,” Shashua said. “All others are very protective, are guarding their territory. And we are saying the opposite, come join us.”
Tesla is producing its cars with new hardware that will eventually enable them to by completely driverless. The company is using real-world data collected by its vehicles on the road to advance the system and currently has 1.3 billion miles worth of data. But Tesla can only draw real-world data from its Autopilot-enabled cars, which some may see as limiting.
Waymo has partnered with Fiat Chrysler for its self-driving car efforts.
The advancement of self-driving car tech will come down to data and how much the cars can learn to drive in any situation. BMW is making its move by casting a wider net.
“Many innovators and some marketing pros are trying to perfect this, I think most of them will fail,” Klaus Fröhlich, BMW’s head of research and development, said during the company’s CES press conference. “To win this race, we are following a different road than many other companies.”
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