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BMW's autonomous car, or how we drifted into love with a robot

BMW's autonomous car, or how we drifted into love with a robot
Sean Cooper
Sean Cooper|@sean_cooper|January 8, 2014 4:58 PM

BMW promised, under the banner of its ConnectedDrive platform, to demonstrate some autonomous driving at this years' CES, and wow did it deliver. Labeled as ActiveAssist, the technology describes both partially and highly automated driving and we were definitely out to sample the highly automated variety. Highly automated driving, as the name suggests means the car will essentially drive itself with you sitting as passenger "up to the car's dynamic limit", or as we discovered to about 80 MPH.

The prototype research cars on hand were tuned for CES by removing the external sensors to make them, more than likely, more pleasant to look at. We chose the M235i -- because who wouldn't, given the choice? -- though there was a diesel 6-series Grand Coupe as well. Seeing as the sensors were missing, the car was following a pre-defined path, but still completely reactive to its environment. The most compelling example of this was on the second lap of the infield track set up at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, when we drifted. Yeah, we put our faith in robot hands and got very sideways through a wet section of the track. I was watching the wheel as we slid and was almost hypnotized seeing the wheel constantly spinning to correct our trajectory and keep the slide going.

Sure, the reality of being transported about by your car is a long way off, maybe as much as 10 years. But all the small pieces that spin off from this technology into cars today make the small steps to robot domination fun. Consider things like active cruise control, which can stop the car completely, then resume driving or self-parking cars and it is easy to see that gradual progress. We for one love where this is going, but we wouldn't be hurt to see it let us race our own cars, you know? Find the video tour and our interview with BMW's Werner Huber just below.

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Ben Harrison contributed to this report

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BMW's autonomous car, or how we drifted into love with a robot