BMW AG and Continental AG are getting ready for a large-scale road test that involves dozens of vehicles in order to come up with a production unit that can change lanes even without the driver's intervention. The companies expect such vehicles to be launched within three to five years.
The companies will conduct the test early 2015 over a 500-kilometer (311-mile) route from Germany over the Alps to Italy, according to Werner Huber, BMW's project manager of driver, assistance and environmental perception. "We will build a prototype car which can be cloned into 10, 20, 50, maybe 100 cars," Huber said. BMW's plan for a fleet test indicates a new step in development of hands-free vehicles.
Based on past trends, lane-changing technology will soon be adapted from luxury cars to the mass market. During the test, the cars will be made to accelerate, brake and change lanes without the driver's help for long stretches at speeds ranging up to 130 kilometers per hour (81 mph).
Production vehicles gain this technology at lower speeds, like in stop-and-start highway traffic. BMW is likely to launch this technology as an improved version of its existing driver assistance package. Luxury brands usually offer a "driver assistance" option that also includes intelligent cruise control with automatic braking and lane-keeping as well as 360-degree road surveillance.
Luxury carmaker BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi are offering driver assistance options which prices range between $1,900 and $3,200. While vehicles equipped with a driver assistance package can accelerate, brake and stay within a highway lane at low speeds without driver intervention, they cannot change lanes. Now, the carmakers are working to add lane changing function, which is considered as next logical step for hands-free driving.