2011 BMW 5-Series Left Turn AssistEnlarge Photo
The day I got my driver's license. It was one of the most memorable days of my life. But not entirely for the obvious reason. You see, when I wrapped my sweaty palms around the wheel and put my quivering foot to the gas, I was quickly met with a horrifying image. Within about 15 seconds, the instructor was frantically clawing at the emergency brake. Not a good omen.
Before my test had hardly begun, in a nervous haste to try to look like I really knew what I was doing, I misjudged the morning traffic and nearly left-turned into fiery carnage. Luckily, my instructor was on his game.
The funny thing about that incident is that I passed the test. I had a strike to give, and my left-turn ordeal was my only strike. Somehow, I managed to regain enough confidence to make it through the rest of the test. For me, this fact was amazing. For the rest of the highway system, pretty scary.
Moral of the story: Just because you have a license, doesn't mean you can make a left turn. And BMW seems keenly aware of that very moral. The German automaker is working on a technology that will help cut down on human misjudgment of left turns.
The system uses GPS and a camera to determine when a driver is about to make a left turn. According to BMW, the GPS system can pinpoint a vehicle's accuracy to within a meter.
The camera scans the roadway for left turn signs. Once a left turn has been identified, three laser sensors analyze about 330 feet ahead to determine if there's any oncoming traffic. If there is, and the driver continues into the turn, the car automatically brakes and warns the driver by way of a dash light and audible warning sound. It's like your own driving-instructor safety-net there to stop you from getting into a crash.
The system only works at speeds of less than 6 mph, and it is deactivated once you hit the brake or accelerator, but it should provide a little wake-up call to anyone that's in a rush or not paying enough attention.
Left Turn Assist will be just one element of technologically-advanced BMWs of the future. At the Geneva Motor Show in March, BMW debuted the Vision ConnectedDrive concept, a roadster that was designed around conceptual technologies like a three-dimensional heads-up display and vehicle-to-vehicle communications.
BMW pictures Left Turn Assist working in conjunction with vehicle-to-vehicle communication. The BMW R 1200 GS motorcycle and the 5-Series in BMW's testing are each equipped with vehicle-to-vehicle communication.
When the 5-Series moves toward making a turn, the motorcycle communicates its make, position, speed and driving dynamics. The motorcycle is able to increase its profile, brightening its headlights to warn of its presence, and the car is better able to analyze the turn and stop if the driver continues into what is determined to be a crash scenario.