BMW: ‘Supercomputers, AI and 5G crucial to make self-driving real’

9 Nov 2016

The architect of the BMW autonomous vehicle strategy, Elmar Frickenstein, on stage at the Web Summit. Image: Web Summit

The architect of BMW’s autonomous car strategy, Elmar Frickenstein, has said that supercomputers, 100pc 5G connectivity and artificial intelligence will be needed to make self-driving cars a worldwide reality by 2021.

Frickenstein, who is senior vice president of electrics/electronics and driver environment at BMW, told the Web Summit in Lisbon that the world has already had 100 years of people driving themselves – now is the time for the machines to do the work.

“Autonomous driving is definitely coming at BMW – we are working to have fully automated driving by 2021.”

He said that while there are many self-driving car prototypes, for truly safe autonomous conditions to exist, there are still a lot of things that need to come together.

“We need higher performance supercomputing, we need more artificial intelligence and we need better computer vision.”

Industry needs to step up a gear on self-driving collaboration

He said the industry needs to come together to create a back-end solution with hundreds of petabytes of data, sensor fusion and back-end security, as well as vehicle security.

“We need to have artificial intelligence in the middle and we need to have an environmental model that includes heat maps and supercomputers.

“If you are looking at urban situations in terms of artificial intelligence, we need to teach the supercomputer about things like the position of a car, speed limits, spotting pedestrians and more.

“We need supercomputers, the software and 100pc connectivity, and we have to team BMW up with other partners such as Intel.

“The solution for the next decade will have to be a non-exclusive industry platform that everyone can help develop on and share the platform.”

As an example of the collaboration that is unfolding, Frickenstein pointed to the creation of the 5G Automotive Association (5GAA) which includes Audi, BMW and Daimler from the automotive side; and Ericsson, Huawei, Intel, Nokia and Qualcomm from the telecoms industry.

He also referenced the €2.5bn acquisition of HERE maps from Nokia by Audi, BMW and Daimler.

“For autonomous driving to truly work in Europe, America and Asia, we will need high definition maps with a precision down to 10cm at least.

“We need 5G for the high data rates and we will need to test a lot of vehicles on streets in the US, Europe, Israel and China. Then there are also the legal requirements.

“We have been driving ourselves for 100 years, but for autonomous vehicles to be a reality, we will need your expertise,” he told the assembled technology industry professionals.

“We need the supercomputers, we need the 5G, the legal environment and cross-industry collaboration to prepare for the future,” Frickenstein said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years