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BMW & Daimler to Partner on Self-Driving Technology to Speed Development

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【Summary】Daimler and BMW announced that they will work together on self-driving technology, hoping to harness the power of strength in numbers to speed up the development of autonomous driving technology.

Eric Walz    Feb 28, 2019 4:10 PM PT
BMW & Daimler to Partner on Self-Driving Technology to Speed Development

The race to develop self-driving cars is crowded with a field of major players like Alphabet's self-driving arm Waymo, dozens of Silicon Valley tech startups, and top global automakers, all working side-by-side in a race to develop the first commercial self-driving cars.

The competition is fierce, however there are still many opportunity for collaboration in order to hasten development of self-driving technology. That's just what German luxury automakers BMW and Daimler plan to do.

The two automakers announced that they will work together on self-driving technology, hoping to harness the power of strength in numbers, collaborating to speed up the development and improve upon existing technology, so it's available for both automakers in the future.

"Combining the key expertise of our two companies will boost our innovative strength and speed up the spread of this technology," said Klaus Fröhlich, Member of the Board of Management of BMW AG, Development.

Automakers Spending Billion to Aquire Self-Driving Technology

BMW and Daimler are following the lead other automakers investing billions in companies to partner on autonomous driving technology. Ford Motor Co and Volkswagen announced in January that they will work together developing electric vehicles, including commercial vans and trucks.

In 2017, General Motors invested $1 billion in San Francisco-based startup Cruise Automation to jumpstart its work on self-driving cars. Cruise received an additional investment of $2 billion from Honda Motor Co. While U.S. rival Ford invested $1 billion in Pittsburgh robotics startup Argo AI.

Without industry collaboration, the huge costs of development and testing of autonomous technology is pushing the bigger players with deeper pockets towards the lead. Waymo is one example.

As the self-driving arm of Alphabet, Waymo has billions of dollars to pour into the developing autonomous driving technology. Google has been working on self-driving cars since 2009, and has made steady progress over the past decade.

Waymo's self-driving fleet has logged millions of miles on public roads, with billions more miles driven in computer simulation, which is used to improve the the software of its driverless cars.

However, despite the seemingly unlimited budget of Waymo, Google is not an automaker, and the company requires an automotive industry partner to outfit its technology into production vehicles.

In order to compete some level of collaboration is deemed necessary in the race to develop self-driving technology on a mass scale.

"We have learned that the development of these systems is a bit like climbing a mountain,"  said Michael Hafner, head of automated driving at Mercedes-Benz research and development about the partnership.

"Taking the first few meters from the base station to the summit seems easy. But the closer you come to the goal, the thinner the air around you becomes, the more strength is required for each further step, and the more complex become the challenges you have to resolve."

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A self-driving Ford Fusion using technology from Argo AI

BMW and Daimler will begin their collaboration by jointly developing technology to enable automated driving on highways and self-parking. These highway systems are similar to Tesla's Autopilot, where a human driver is still needed to take over in certain situations.

The two partners plan to discuss the possibility of extending their collaboration to cover higher levels of automation, both on highways and in urban areas. Level 5 automation is the highest, and requires no human driver input at all. These types of vehicle will not need controls such as a steering wheel or brake pedals.

The stakes are huge for automakers, as the market for self-driving technology, advanced driver assist systems, as well as automated mobility as a service (MaaS) such as as autonomous ride-hailing is expected to grow substantially.

According to Navigant Research, cumulative revenue for global urban mobility technologies is expected to reach $240.9 Billion in 2027.

Both automakers will continue their independent work on self-driving technology. BMW has been working with Bosch on self-driving vehicles in California. this year,  BMW will launch the first pilot for testing its self-driving vehicles in urban areas of Silicon Valley.

BMW will continue its its work with Israeli-based computer vision company Mobileye and chip maker Intel, with the aim of putting autonomous cars on the road by 2021. Intel purchased Mobileye for $15.3 billion in 2017, giving the chipmaker a foothold for supplying the hardware for self-drving cars.

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The BMW iNEXT Concept

Daimler and BMW both will continue to explore additional partnerships with other technology companies and OEM automotive manufacturers that could contribute to the success of the platform.

BMW, Daimler and Audi are already working with in high-definition mapping with HERE. The three German automakers purchased HERE for access to HD mapping technology, an essential component for driverless cars for navigation.

OEM suppliers such as Bosch and Continental are supplying components for automakers, including BMW and Daimler, that are needed to make automated driving possible, including radar, cameras, lidar, and electronics.

Just last week, BMW and Daimler announced a separate joint venture which merges together five distinct mobility services. The service is called "Your Now". With the new joint venture, the automakers are looking to participate in the future of urban mobility, such as autonomous ride-sharing.

Meanwhile, Daimler continues make advances on its "Intelligent Drive" advanced driver assist system found in Mercedes Benz vehicles. The automaker has already achieved SAE Level 2 or "partial automation." This means that the car can already react automatically in many situations. However, the company stresses that a human driver must always monitor traffic as well as the vehicle's surroundings and be ready to react if necessary.

The generation of technologies that is currently under development by BMW will go into series production as Level 3 automation in 2021, which will be available in the BMW iNEXT.

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