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BMW to show self-driving 2-Series and 6-Series at CES, Las Vegas

Not so long ago, few petrol heads would have been interested in what was going on at the consumer electronics show (CEC) in Las Vegas. Traditionally, this is where technology fans get their annual fix. It's full of computers and smartphones; tablets and apps. The motoring world seems very far away. All that is changing, though, as technology implants itself ever more deeply into our cars.

Not so long ago, few petrol heads would have been interested in what was going on at the consumer electronics show (CES) in Las Vegas. Traditionally, this is where technology fans get their annual fix. It's full of computers and smartphones; tablets and apps. The motoring world seems very far away. All that is changing, though, as technology implants itself ever more deeply into our cars. The first area of crossover may have come with electronic gadgets like satellite navigation or audio equipment but now it's the cars themselves that are stars of the show.

Ford is showing a solar powered hybrid and Toyota is showing its autonomous car. Even non-motoring brands are getting in on the act, with Bosch showing a self-parking solution delivered via a smartphone. Other brands are using high-tech electronics to develop driving aids that range from collision avoidance to self-parking and move rapidly towards self-driving cars. Tech giant Google has a fleet of 24 driverless cars, busily motoring around public roads in California, Florida and Nevada. All three states have already licensed the testing of driverless cars on their roads. So far, Google's cars have travelled 500,000 miles without an accident, so the technology is beginning to look sound.

With laws changing to allow driverless cars on the road and the technology maturing, the focus moves on to other barriers to entry. One of these is cost but experience tells us that the price of new technology soon dips as components become cheaper and mass market economics introduce economies of scale. The second barrier is rather more subtle: driver acceptance is absolutely key. All of the publicity has been around how safe driverless cars will be and how their incredibly rapid responses will allow more cars to travel more quickly on our roads. If the motoring public doesn't want to buy them, however, the technology is dead in the water. Readers of a certain age will recall how Betamax video and laser disc had better technology than VHS but VHS won because the marketing plan was better.

This is why BMW's appearance at CES is so important. They are showing self-driving versions of the 2-Series and 6-Series. The difference is that these cars can get the tail out, perform power slides and 'drift' around corners. It may be that BMW is onto something. The thing is, we actually like driving. Other technology devices automate tasks we don't want to do but driving is actually a pleasure. In understanding this and providing cars that can entertain us, BMW may have lowered the final barrier to driverless cars.

 

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