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i Next: BMW’s flagship self-driving car will arrive in 2021

I, robocar

By Jennifer Harrison May 13, 2016
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In the future our cars won’t be so damaging to the environment; they’ll be smart and know our needs; they’ll interact with cities and infrastructure, and they won’t even need a driver. Car manufacturers that aren’t keeping up with these developments will be left behind. BMW have already recognised the need to adapt and are hiring software engineers to work on their artificial intelligence research. During an annual accounts press conference, BMW board members promised that their company will lead the way in innovation in terms of autonomous driving, electric vehicles, and connectivity. To fulfil that goal, they announced the i Next: a flagship car that will be available in 2021.

The i Next will supposedly feature a lightweight chassis and new interior design but we don’t actually know what it will look like. BMW’s Vision Next 100 concept showed how they imagine their cars will look in 100 years. The i Next will fall short of that futuristic vision but might take some inspiration from it. More concrete is that it will be self-driving, electric, and heavily integrated with the Internet of Things.

The Vision 100 concept. Image: BMW
The Vision 100 concept. Image: BMW

An interesting point is that the i Next will allow manual driving. We’re still not sure what will become of manual steering when self-driving cars take to the roads. BMW wants you to be able to switch between modes so you can enjoy the experience of driving interesting roads on a day off but get some work done while the car automatically handles boring traffic on the way to work. That’s all well and good in isolation but the best self-driving systems might require all the vehicles to be autonomous. We’re still not sure what the infrastructure will or won’t allow. We’re all for manual steering as an option but some concepts don’t include it so it’ll be interesting to see how this evolves.

More important than the details of the car itself is the overall vision the board members are communicating to shareholders. BMW is following in the footsteps of Ford and preparing to become a company specialising in connectivity and mobility. They don’t just want to wow us with an impressive autonomous car; they want us to recognise BMW as the company that makes cars that integrate perfectly with our physical and digital lives. Much like how Ford is investing in cloud platforms for future mobility services, BMW is launching a suite of services called BMW Connected to integrate their cars with your devices and daily life. Basically, your BMW car will know how you like things, what’s going on in the world, and will be part of the Internet of Things.

The competition is hotting up and the first self-driving cars aren’t even available. Just imagine what the industry will be like when this tech goes live.


Main image: BMW