At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas BMW took autonomous driving to a whole new level by unveiling a self-driving car that is capable of exploring the limits of performance and pulling off massive powerslides, all on its own. The self-driving BMW is based on a 2 Series Coupe, but the system can be fitted to virtually any car with electric steering system.
Now, drifting in fun when YOU start it, YOU hold it, and YOU bring it home with style and finesse. In the self-drifting BMW, though, you just there and go sideways. Where’s the fun in that? Sounds a bit pointless, this idea, but still, it doesn’t mean what BMW engineers have achieved here is anything short of spectacular.
Autonomous driving at the limit has been made possible thanks to a new system they call BMW ActiveAssist, part of BMW ConnectedDrive. It is basically a safety feature that takes over the control of the car in tricky situations and makes sure order is restored before it gives the steering, the throttle and the brakes back to the driver. In autonomous mode, though, it uses precise brake inputs to control under and oversteer. Bit of software fiddling, and you can make the car drifts like it’s a crab!
The prototype fitted with ActiveAssist showcased at the 2014 CES can pilot its way at high speeds and with exceptional precision on a slalom run between cones, adheres to a marked out circular course regardless of the friction coefficient of the road surface, and executes an obstacle-evading lane change to perfection. Understeer is dealt with by opening the steering, and oversteer is cured with a dab of opposite lock and brake inputs. Now you might be wondering how the car known how much steering lock it has apply to hold the drift and eventually correct it. For that BMW has employed a programmable electronic steering system. You store some preset data in its memory, and tell it to use them according to what sensors and radars are feeling and seeing at any given moment.
Autonomous driving is not some distant and alien technology. It is very much here and in the next few years the first examples of self-driving cars will hit public roads. BMW says their cars are already virtually ready for self-driving. They all have the electric steering as standard, which is the most important part. The rest of it is radars and GPS and auto braking and auto accelerating systems, all of which already available in various safety features.