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BMW Self-Driving Car Technology Arrives in China

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BMW Self-Driving Car in China Intersection Traffic

Imagine a day when you can sit in traffic and don’t have to worry about paying attention

It seems like every automaker has been itching to jump on the driverless vehicle bandwagon (a bandwagon which, hopefully, isn’t driverless itself).

If you’re hoping, like many of us, to see a BMW self-driving car during your lifetime, you might not be waiting as long as you’d expect. The brand is already researching autonomous cars in China.

A BMW Self-Driving Car Could Take You to Get Chinese Food

If you had your eye on the Consumer Electronics Show in January, you might’ve seen the “highly automated” BMW 2-Series Coupe being flaunted. Since then, the 2-Series vehicle has been tested all across Europe, especially Germany, with sufficient results. While the rolling hills and cumbersome tunnels of the West didn’t pose much of a problem, BMW decided it was time to look elsewhere.

After realizing its princess was in another castle and having advanced to Level 2 of testing, the BMW self-driving car arrived in China. “China’s fast-expanding urban centres present the engineers with challenges such as multi-level highways,” the company explained. BMW’s sights are on Shanghai and Beijing, where the 2-Series Coupe will be tested before being publicly released in those cities two years from now.

Is there a difference between BMW’s “highly automated” and typical “driverless” car designs? According to BMW, there is. Its vehicles in testing are not meant to have sole driving control but act as an intelligent assistant to the driver.

So, self-driving, certainly, but meant to replace the presence of the driver altogether? Not quite. Think of BMW self-driving cars as possessing an auto-pilot function that can perform simple maneuverability tasks itself, like braking, accelerating, and changing lanes.

BMW Self-Driving Car in China Mall traffic

Getting to the mall might not be such a headache in the future
Photo:Margaret Napier

The reason the BMW self-driving car test drives in China are a big deal is because of the brand’s new partnership with Baidu, China’s biggest search engine, digital map system, and cloud storage (despite all that, it doesn’t appear to be owned by the Chinese government). Because the BMW self-driving car doesn’t have the memory to store such a vast and intricate level of hi-res maps, Baidu will be providing the maps and cloud storage access.

The endgame for this endeavor is to release self-driving cars within two years in certain major Chinese cities and three years on a broader scale, with most models fully integrated with Baidu’s data services. So, our question is, when will that BMW self-driving car make its way back to the West?