When this new BMW 7 Series debuts, it will introduce a technology-first for the brand, something that only one or two brands have worked with even Level 3 autonomy. If you are not familiar with the various levels of self-driving, then Level 3 autonomy means that the driver does not have to drive at all while the system is in operation – and within the correct parameters. The next-gen 7 Series will be Level 3-capable, even if most markets do not allow it.
What makes Level 3 different from the current Level 2 system of current BMWs? Technically speaking, there are more capable hardware involved with Level 3, which we’ll get to shortly. But in practice, the driver of a Level 3 car does not need to intervene if it is within the required parameters. How does BMW achieve Level 3 in the new 7 Series? Short answer – LiDAR, high-definition camera and sensor.
The smallest LiDAR in a BMW
LiDAR is an interesting technology and one that has been consistently criticized by Tesla owner Elon Musk. However, even Tesla is now testing LiDAR. However, BMW has partnered with Innoviz to create a LiDAR system that is hidden next to the car’s kidney grille. The next-gen 7 series will use a new LiDAR unit from Innovius mounted on the front grille, which will provide a front view range of up to 250 meters. Also, for the first time, LiDAR has multiple levels of vertical resolution so it is able to distinguish between obstacles below or above the driver.
The new BMW 7 Series also has a windshield-mounted front camera, which looks farther away for pedestrians and other vehicles. It is also said to be the first 8 MPix camera used for automotive purposes worldwide. An additional front camera is also mounted in the grille. BMW says that thanks to the 8-megapixel camera, they’ve been able to reduce the number of front-facing cameras, while doubling the number of measuring points.
In addition to the front LiDAR and camera, there are six ultrasonic sensors on the front, six on the back, a rear-mounted camera, two short-range radar sensors on the back and even two side cameras – one in each side mirror. In total, there are more than 30 sensors for ultrasound, camera and radar.
Level 3 is limited to some markets
BMW’s Level 3 self-driving system will be limited to high-traffic highway use at speeds of up to 60 km / h (37 miles). The idea is that it can completely eliminate the hassle of driving in traffic, allowing the car to do the annoying things for you. BMW claims that customers will be able to find time to read, send emails, entertain or even just relax. This sets it apart from other Level 2 systems currently used in cars like BMW, Mercedes, Odyssey and Tesla.
Although Level 3 requires more than just a sensor and LiDAR to work. Huge computing power is also required, as literally millions of scenes are being simulated when BMW tests the system, all of which is done remotely, in the selected data center.
When BMW launches Level 3 on the BMW 7 Series and BMW i7, it will be one of only two brands to have Level 3 technology, including Audi. However, Audi has given up its Level 3 ambition and decided to hold on to Level 4 and beyond. BMW leaves K in any kind of class. Tesla’s Autopilot and Cadillac’s Super Cruise – both systems generally considered the best in the business – are Level 2+ systems, which means they can do a bit more than the traditional Level 2 setup. Although none of this is level 3.
Unfortunately for BMW, many countries lack legislation to allow such systems. Germany is currently working on legislation to allow Level 3 autonomy but countries like the United Kingdom and the United States are still far from allowing such systems to operate. Which means if you’re an American 7 Series or i7 subscriber, your car will be technically able to drive within the correct speed parameters on the highway, but you will not be allowed to do so. So, China may be the first market to get a Level 3 spec BMW.
It’s a step forward, though. As we slowly move toward full autonomy, some brands need to move forward with technology that the world may not be ready for, unless it is done in a safe way. When we finally get our hands on the 7 Series or i7, we will be able to test whether it is safe to use BMW’s Level 3 system and how effective it is. Until then, it looks promising. Next week, we’d like to have Innovis CEO join us for a chat on their LiDAR, so stay tuned for more detailed tech articles!