Photographer: Junko Kimura/Bloomberg

BMW Plans Highway Chauffeur in Self-Driving Race With Mercedes

  • Feature to allow driver to work, watch TV, browse Facebook
  • BMW plans to have technology ready in four to five years

BMW AG is developing technology that will allow the driver to work, watch TV and check out Facebook as the car drives itself down the highway.

The feature, which is aimed at besting self-driving technology currently on offer from Mercedes-Benz, will be rolled out in four to five years.

“We’re working on a concept car that’ll allow a chauffeur experience on the highway,” Werner Huber, who heads BMW’s research group on driver-assistance systems, said in an interview at the Geneva International Motor Show. “The idea is that the driver’s attention can be elsewhere, such as using the car’s displays to write emails.”

The feature would go beyond technology currently available, which still requires the driver to keep her hands on the steering wheel. BMW is under pressure to respond as Mercedes threatens to overtake its German rival in sales for the first time in a decade. The Daimler AG unit has been bolstered by a slate of new cars like the revamped Mercedes E-Class sedan, which can drive itself along simple country lanes and recognizes jaywalking pedestrians.

BMW’s next step in automation will probably be ready in time for the next overhaul of the top-of-the-line 7-Series sedan due in 2022, said Huber. BMW usually packs the latest technology into its flagship model. While the feature will allow the driver to tune out for a time, there are limits.

“It’s going to be hands-free driving,” but there won’t yet be seats that swivel away from the road, said Huber. “That’s further in the future.”

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