Will BMW take on Uber with self-driving cars?

Will BMW take on Uber with self-driving cars?

Feature articles |
By Christoph Hammerschmidt

To create the IT basis for the self-driving BMW – on-board as well as off-board -, BMW joined forces with Intel and Mobileye. The goal of the collaboration is to develop solutions that enable drivers to not only take their hands off the steering wheel, but also reach the so-called “eyes off” (level 3) and ultimately the “mind off” (or level 4) stage of automated driving. This level of autonomy would enable the vehicle to achieve the final stage of automated driving which is defined as travelling “driver off” without a human driver inside.

This, Krüger pointed out, will establish the opportunity of self-driving car-sharing fleets – much like those operated by car sharing service Uber today, with the notable difference that the robot BMWs won’t even need a human driver. Krüger did not elaborate if BMW plans to operate these vehicles itself or sell it to customers like Uber. However, given the fact that the Bavarian carmaker in public appearances does not define itself as a car manufacturer any longer but instead as a “mobility services provider”, it is well possible that the Bavarians could emerge as a competitor to Uber. An indicator that this is likely is BMWs activitiy in the car sharing business: Through a joint venture with car rental company Sixt, BMW is involved in car sharing company DriveNow with activities in multiple European countries as well as in the United States.


The trio also said it plans to establish an open platform for autonomous driving. This platform will address level 3 to level 5 of the automated driving scale and will be available to any interested parties within and outside the automotive industry. As a first step, they will introduce a common reference platform architecture in the near term. However, they did not elaborate on technical details of such a platform. Intel just highlighted the scalability of its microprocessor architecture that covers the range from the Atom low-end chip to its high-end Xeon server processor. This would enable Intel to deliver number crunching power in the triple-digit teraflop range “without having to rewrite code”. This verbalization suggests that the computing power and IT services Intel plans to contribute will either take place mostly in the cloud – or that Intel is really willing to get involved into the development of safety-critical applications. So far, the chipmaker however has been notably absent from the automotive chip market, in particular from the safety-critical market segment where development has to adhere to the stringent rules of the ISO26262 standard.


In any case, it becomes apparent that automated driving calls for much higher computing power than hitherto implemented in cars. Plus, the new business models like the abovementioned fleet of robot taxis will call for another leap in computing resources, including cloud services. Recently, BMW competitor Audi described the requirements for such a computing architecture. However, Audi seems to build its strategy with chipmaker Nvidia, one of the main competitors of Mobileye and to some extend also of Intel.


With regard to the openness of the platform to be created by BMW/Intel/Mobileye it is permissible to doubt. Mobileye is not exactly known for a maximum of openness as to its technology and algorithms. In contrast, Nvidia hosts developer meetings with thousands of programmers and computer scientists and has a generally much more open approach. Thus, if such a platform needs to be open – and if one hopes to attract partners across the industry, there cannot be any doubt that openness will be essential – it is possible thant BMWs competitors see more success in the long run.


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