BMW Forecasts Cars Will Be Highly Automated by 2020, Driverless by 2025.

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The latest in a slew of press from major automakers, BMW and automotive supplier Continental recently announced a partnership to develop new technology for self-driving cars. The collaboration aims to develop an “electronic co-pilot” system for highway grade driverless cars over the next year. And the announcement came with a bold forecast: partially automated cars by 2016, highly automated cars by 2020, and fully automated cars by 2025.

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During their year-long partnership, BMW and Continental will build and test several prototypes using near-production technology—stereo cameras, radar, and laser sensors. Researchers will then run the prototypes through many of the tests modern freeways have to offer, navigating the likes of toll plazas, construction, and interchanges. They’ll use the trials to further hone their algorithms, and prepare the system for real world use.

This isn’t BMW’s first foray into automation by any means. Three years ago, the iconic automaker sent a driverless car around Nurburgring North Loop and later raced it at Laguna Seca in the US. In 2011, BMW drove (or rather, didn’t drive) an automated car on the A9 in Germany. The car has since logged 10,000 incident free kilometers without human intervention.

Beyond BMW, other commercial automakers gunning for full automation include Audi and Mercedes. Meanwhile, Stanford’s robot Audi is challenging the best human drivers on the racetrack. And BMW’s 10,000 kilometer trial pales in comparison to the Google car’s 300,000 miles.

Given the competition—that 2025 forecast may prove too conservative. The technology is already here. The major roadblocks will be legal, regulatory, and human. It may take some time for drivers to feel comfortable giving up control and believe the roads are more safely navigated by emotionless algorithms capable of making life and death split second decisions.

Perennially unimpressed Peter Thiel famously complains, “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.” But technology doesn’t always deliver the expected, and it  rarely does so on schedule. George Jetson’s car could fly—but could it fly itself? I don't think so. We’ll have mass produced, fully automated cars well before the flying variety ever make an appearance.

And maybe that’s as it should be. Never mind the challenges of building airborne passenger vehicles—think of the skills required to fly them. For humans to take to the air en masse, it may be better to have a computer at the helm.

Image Credit: Continental, BMW AG

Jason Dorrier

Jason is managing editor of Singularity Hub. He cut his teeth doing research and writing about finance and economics before moving on to science, technology, and the future. He is curious about pretty much everything, and sad he'll only ever know a tiny fraction of it all.

Discussion — 19 Responses

  • Marco Lo Turco March 21, 2013 on 8:50 am

    I think we will have driverless cars ON THE GROUND in the future and then, later, we will arrive to driverless FLYING CARS in the air. Flying cars will fly on their own.

    • Matthew Marco Lo Turco March 22, 2013 on 11:28 am

      my sentiments exactly! 🙂 we already have flying cars we just can’t afford them and they’re illegal to operate and not automated lol.

    • Timothy Arends Marco Lo Turco March 23, 2013 on 12:33 pm

      Will we need flying cars if they can drive themselves? Take a nap en route in a driverless car and by the time you wake up you will be at your destination. It will seem as if the car flew.

      • Alkan Timothy Arends June 3, 2013 on 2:47 pm

        With nanobatteries, infinite solar energy, and highly advanced AI, flying cars should be easy.

    • Torgamous Marco Lo Turco March 23, 2013 on 2:05 pm

      I’m dubious about the utility of flying cars in general. It will never be as easy to defy gravity as it is to work with it; unlike current limits of computation, this is one of the basic laws of physics. Flying cars will fly on their own with a quarter of the battery life of ground cars, and there’s a much larger range of issues that could become lethal when you’re not already on the ground.

    • Isaac p. Marco Lo Turco March 24, 2013 on 2:22 pm

      What do you think drones are?

      • Marco Lo Turco Isaac p. March 25, 2013 on 1:04 pm

        I like to dream that there will be flying cars in the future, when we will have anti-gravity technology everythink will be possible! Look at this video, it’s incredible:

        I think we’ll be using quantum levitation for flying cars.
        And drones … they are used in war, right? Yes, they are flying “cars” controlled by people on the ground for the military, right? But I want flying cars used by citizens, normal people, not used for war, I hate war, we should all live in peace.
        By the way, I’m a science fiction writer so I have a lot of immagination 🙂
        Maybe I’m wrong if I think there will be flying cars … or maybe I’m right! Nodoby Knows what will happen in the future but I like to believe that something extraordinary as the flying cars is possible.

        “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams” (Eleanor Roosevelt).

  • Paul Godsmark March 21, 2013 on 1:22 pm

    Google’s Andrew Chatham tells us that Google have now done over 400,000 miles of testing in this 20 Feb 2013 presentation at the Embedded Linux conference:
    The more important metric is that the Google self-driving car has completed over 50,000miles without any safety critical human intervention. Once it achieves about 110,000 miles in this metric then there is a 50% probability that it will cause less crashes than a person. If it achieves 727,000 miles then there is a 99% confidence that it will cause less crashes than a person.
    Sergey Brin mentioned this statistic at the September 2012 signing of the California Autonomous Vehicle Bill. At the same time he intimated that it would be 5 years before Google had this tech in the public hands. Since then other Google team members have publicly stated within 5 years.
    Once vehicles can drive unmanned then we enter a new paradigm and we will likely see fleets of autonomous vehicles meeting our transportation needs much more cheaply, safely and sustainably than private ownership. This is bad news for the business model of automakers who make more money from selling each of us a car. Therefore expect all automaker’s predictions to be conservative as noted in the article.

    • Andrew Atkin Paul Godsmark March 21, 2013 on 1:49 pm

      Paul: Good to see a helpful contribution in the notes – thanks.

      Google said it must go as fast as it can now – this is the reason. Other automakers know this is the future, and are in the race too (great!).

      Auto-taxi is the future. We won’t need to own them. All they have to do now is empty send/return (while you initially drive when in them, to keep the regulators happy) and there’s your full-auto revolution progressing, full-swing.

      Marco: Flying cars will never hit the mass-market until we have anti-gravity (???). You can’t elevate them in VTOL with massive and unacceptable noise.

      The real “flying car” effect will happen when we build specialised under-passes and/or over-passes for small electric commuter car; cars that will bypass central city cores at 80mph while platooning. Goodbye congestion – forever.

  • hutje March 21, 2013 on 2:50 pm

    Exactly. Few people are going to want to own a car if they can order one at any given time of the day and don’t have to worry about parking, fueling, servicing or whatever; let alone buying one to start off with. We already see that in Amsterdam where there is a good amount of publicly available electric cars, some folks don’t bother owning a car themselves anymore. For a few euro’s they take these vehicles to get to work. One or twice a year they rent a car to go on vacation.
    This will be commongood if they autonomous car is there. Taxidrivers, truckers, busdrivers; they will all be out of work. A lot of carmakers will be out of work. A fair amount of highways will become obsolete; autonomous cars drive more efficient and need less space. Cities will loose their income on parking fees. This will effectively turn the economy upside down again. Few people realize how big an impact this will have.

    • econik hutje March 24, 2013 on 3:27 am

      Less stolen cars, less traffic, less accidents among others will lead to higher productivity and less need for city expenses. Think about how states and the federal government will no longer have to worry as much about expanding our roads. Traffic when controlled by the computer will run smooth like a river. I wouldn’t worry about the city not being able to collect their petty taxes.

  • Malay Kar March 21, 2013 on 3:58 pm

    Ofcourse. Prices of gas will be one factor to find driverless cars by 2025.

  • Robert Schreib March 21, 2013 on 8:35 pm

    With all these rapid fire advances in computer hardware and software, I am amazed we don’t have cars with automated chauffeurs build into them already! It might be possible to do it with cellphone/car linkage to a massive shareware node in ‘the cloud’ to coordinate the robo-cars, but cellphones don’t always pick up their signals everywhere.

  • Matthew March 22, 2013 on 11:27 am

    awesome. now all we have to do is be sure that they can’t be hacked (quantum encryption?), don’t pollute our air, and can we plz just ditch the roads altogether so we’re not polluting our ground and water with run-off and destroyed ecosystems… if they’re driving themselves why not just have them fly in 3d traffic patterns magnitudes more quickly and efficiently? (just gonna have to amend insurance laws that say four wheels need to be on the ground but no pilot’s licence should be necessary). <3 love you

    • Torgamous Matthew March 23, 2013 on 2:07 pm

      As it is the only way to hack them should be to physically open them up and directly alter the code. You don’t need any encryption for something that’ll never be connected to the Internet.

  • Ivan Malagurski March 24, 2013 on 10:27 am

    Sounds cool, I hope it really works…

  • FastTrack100 March 26, 2013 on 4:58 am

    It gives a great sense of relief because we are now assured of our safety leaving the computers to do the driving job and do it without errors.


  • Tony Alvarado March 26, 2013 on 5:43 pm

    We all hope to see autonomous cars on the road sooner than later, take a look at The BiModal Glideway Dual Mode Transportation System we can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. Email us with your comments or questions.

  • Robotics May 4, 2013 on 11:06 am

    I write about robots and also about self driving vehicles. The expectoration for robotic cars until 2025 I think that is a goal too high since service robots are already available on the market, but with a penetration rate among users a little far away from the predictions of 10 years ago.

    New articles about self driving cars can be found on