BMW i3 Concept
For many people though city driving is the most stressful situation you can encounter, so surely self-driving cars would make sense in crowded urban environments too?
BMW has taken us one step closer with the new 2014 BMW i3 battery-electric concept car, unveiled last week. Whilst many have been concentrating on the unusual styling and glass doors, and others the electric powertrain, the i3 also features several electronic gadgets that should make city driving a breeze.
BMW has said the i3 Concept is "designed for stress-free driving around town". Like any electric car it's already off to a good start, with a torquey electric motor offering smooth, vibration-free and silent progress without the need to shift gears. With a 170-horsepower motor, it'll be quick enough for any city driving scenario, and the small size should make it convenient and fun to nip around in, too.
However, it's features like active cruise control with stop & go, passive front protection, parking assistant and traffic jam assistant that we're interested in.
Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go is already familiar to many of us - using radar it can keep your vehicle a safe distance from the car in front, speeding up and slowing down with them at a preset distance. Even if the car in front stops, your car will do the same, and re-accelerate as they pull away again.
Passive Front Protection is featured in both the i3 and 2013 i8 sports car. Like Volvo's system it detects a collision risk ahead whether with another car or a pedestrian, before issuing a warning to the driver and if necessary, automatically braking.
BMW's Parking Assistant really does take the stress out of parking. Automated systems so far have required some level of driver interaction - usually control over the throttle and brakes, whilst the car does the steering as and when required. BMW Parking Assistant is entirely autonomous. Simply pull up beside a space and let the car do the rest...
Traffic Jam Assistant sounds quite convenient too - using the functions of Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go it both drives your vehicle along in slow-moving, stop and start traffic, but also steers you between the road markings - though it does require you to keep a hand on the wheel.
BMW i3 Concept Automated journey?
BMW i3 ConceptEnlarge Photo
All these systems take the BMW very close to being entirely autonomous.
Setting off from home you'd need to control your car initially, but once on the main road you could use active cruise control to follow another vehicle all the way into the city, only requiring you to steer yourself. Once in the city, Traffic Jam Assistant would keep you moving along until you found somewhere to park - then a simple button press and the car would slot you into a space.
With the inevitable navigation systems included on most modern cars and making further use of radar guidance, it doesn't take too great a leap before your journey could be entirely automated. You'd simply set a destination and let the car do the rest.
So who will launch the first entirely driverless car? Legalities permitting, it could well be BMW...