Owners of select BMW cars will be able to let their vehicles drive them around autonomously next spring.
On Friday, the German automaker announced it would launch Level 3 automated driving for its BMW 7 Series cars in March 2024, with pre-orders starting in December.
Level 3 refers to the Society of Automobile Engineers (SAE) standard for automated driving, which goes from Level 0 to Level 5. At Level 3, the car can drive itself under certain conditions, but the driver must be alert and ready to take over if the car asks them to.
The new functionality will only be available in BMW 7 Series vehicles.
(For reference, Level 4 is fully automated and should not require the driver to take over, but it only works in certain scenarios. Level 5 is fully automated, all scenarios, fall-asleep-while-the-car-drives-itself level of automation).
BMW’s offering, officially dubbed Personal Pilot L3, is fairly limited, as it will only be available for BMW 7 Series cars (excluding the i7 eDrive50 and i7 M70 xDrive) as a 6,000 euro ($6,410) upgrade, and only in Germany.
Mercedes-Benz already offers Level 3 automation in certain, fairly limited scenarios. BMW does say, however, that it’s the first carmaker to offer both Level 2 automation (which is available in all new BMW 5 Series models) and a Level 3 system at the same time.
In practice, BMW’s system will work at speeds of up to 60 km/h (37mph), and only on motorways with structurally separated carriageways. The company points out that this is the first system of its kind that can also be used in the dark. While the system is active, the driver will be able to do stuff that’s not driving, including editing e-mails or making phone calls. But remember: Level 3 automation can require the driver to take over, so this is not the type of system where you can fully fall asleep at the wheel. BMW says the system is “the ideal solution for making good use of time spent in slow-moving traffic or tailbacks during daily motorway commutes.”
The driver must be ready to take over should the system require it.
The car can achieve this with the use of 5G connectivity, precise GPS positioning, cameras, ultrasonic sensors, radars, and a 3D lidar sensor.
While all major automakers offer some kind of automated driving experience in their vehicles, this makes BMW and Mercedes-Benz the first to truly push Level 3 automation to commercial use. For example, Tesla’s Full Self-Driving assistance package is around Level 2 automation, and even though Elon Musk keeps saying that Level 4 or 5 is coming soon, it hasn’t happened yet.