BMW is the latest to announce that it is working on self-driving or ‘autonomous’ cars, revealing today a new prototype based on the 5-Series and packed with the automaker’s new “Highly Automated Driving” technology.

Eventually, BMW hopes that its cars will be able to brake, accelerate and pass other vehicles all on its own, while also monitoring and adapting to the prevailing traffic conditions.

The prototype you see here has already logged more than 3,000 miles, more or less with no driver involvement.

It can do so thanks to intelligent software as well as vision assistance and environment detection systems.

One of the greatest challenges early in the project involved reacting to vehicles merging on to a highway at exits and access points. The prototype system reacts to the situation by allowing the merging vehicles to join the traffic flow, and it can even change lanes if need be--all at speeds of up to 80 mph.

By accessing digital maps, the camera, and the localization data of the extremely precise GPS, the automated vehicle prototype can determine its location in its own lane, and it also receives exact information about the characteristics of the route ahead, including the number of lanes that section of road has.

This information is supplemented by data from the forward-looking camera integrated in the lane departure warning system. Objects in front of the vehicle are detected by the radar sensors of the adaptive cruise control system with Stop&Go function and by a laser scanner as well. The same is true for objects at the sides or rear of the vehicle.

BMW stresses that the system has been designed for highway use only, and that the driver is still responsible for the situation at all times and must constantly keep an eye on traffic and the surroundings.

You may recall that BMW has already developed a system called TrackTrainer that’s capable of driving a car autonomously around a race track, and Volkswagen recently unveiled its own autonomous car technology called the Temporary Auto Pilot.

Such developments may one day lead to a world where people no longer have to drive at all, but hopefully they will still have the choice if they wanted to.

To view our complete coverage on autonomous cars and their increasing development, click here.