BMW is going driverless and needs more software engineers

Nobody wants to be left behind when the world goes driverless

Happy birthday BMW! The German car manufacturer turned 100 today. When a company celebrates a century of its history, it should be a time to look back and appreciate how far it has come. For BMW, however, it’s time to start worrying about the future.

Robotics experts are predicting that driving will be fully-autonomous within 25 years. That’s very soon and other companies are already making strides to be big players when the world goes driverless. BMW are proud of their history and cars but could risk becoming obsolete if they don’t start playing catch-up in the race for driverless vehicles.

BMW isn’t entirely new to self-driving cars and has shown off a few concepts before but it’s definitely falling behind the competition. In the past, BMW’s rivals have been other car manufacturers. Looking ahead, new rivals will include internet-enabled services like Uber. Klaus Froehlich, the head of research and development at BMW, told Reuters of his fears and plans moving forward. “Our task is to preserve our business model without surrendering it to an internet player. Otherwise we end up like the Foxconn for a company like Apple, delivering only metal bodies for them.”

One of BMW's self-driving concepts.

Companies like Ford and Google are well ahead of the game but other manufacturers have already committed to self-driving cars. Kia Motors is spending £1.4 billion over the next 2 years to develop self-driving technology they hope will be commercially available by 2030. BMW are falling behind and will need to look for support from outside of Germany. It’s clear that BMW doesn’t have the machine learning and artificial intelligence expertise it will need for a driverless future. Currently, 20% of BMW’s research and development staff are software engineers. Froehlich says he wants software engineers to make up 50% of the department within 5 years, which will be impossible using only home-grown talent. There simply aren’t enough tech engineers coming from German schools.

With such a radical change to the way we build and use vehicles, we could see a real shift in the countries that we associate with making the best cars. When BMW turns 200, the idea of Germany being famous for cars could very well be alien. Perhaps a young generation that grows up with driverless cars will know somewhere like China as the home of the best car manufacturers. We’re moving into a world where a car’s brain will be more important than its pistons. The big car manufacturers can’t stop to be too proud of their past achievements as things are moving faster than ever.

All images © BMW

Story via Reuters