BMW’s evolutionary driving assistance technology will soon allow its vehicles to automatically stop at red traffic lights, bringing the reality of autonomous cars another step closer.
Unlike some other driverless technology, which is many years away from the options list, BMW’s red light recognition system is expected to roll out to European production cars in 2020, and is already functioning on public roads.
WhichCar understands that Mercedes-Benz is also working technology to achieve the same result, but that will not be included in its showroom cars until 2023, giving BMW a significant head start. As for an Australian debut, exact timing has not yet been confirmed but 2021 is the earliest indication at this stage.
During a visit to the German car maker’s headquarters in Munich we were taken on a demonstration ride to see the system in action.
Inside the cabin of the completely normal looking G20 3 Series there were no wires taped to supplementary equipment and there were no engineers tapping away on laptops. Instead, the fleet of development cars has the new software fully installed and uses the hardware already standard on the recently introduced G20 version.
In fact, the only evidence that the car had any exceptional ability compared with a ‘standard’ 3 Series, was a small icon in the instrument cluster, which illuminates to confirm when it sees a traffic light.
The new system has been added as part of the suite of autonomous functions along with lane-departure assistance, adaptive cruise control and emergency braking and is active as soon as the adaptive cruise control is activated.
As the lights turned amber, the BMW spookily started to slow and came to a complete stop at the traffic light, all without intervention from the driver. If the vehicle is the first in a queue of cars, a press of a steering wheel confirm button is required to coax the vehicle back into motion.
During our short test drive, the development car performed the quietly impressive trick several times without hitch and with a reassuring smoothness and competency.
When asked if the recognition system could be expanded into other mandatory road signalling such as give way signs, development engineer Bartono Adiprasito said simply “not yet”.
But as many vehicles including the 3 Series already have the ability to recognise road signs, you can expect the versatile technology to bundle more features as the company continues its development.
Interestingly, the traffic light recognition technology can be retrofitted to any new G20 3 Series that has the supporting forward-facing camera already installed, but whether BMW offers the option to existing owners remains to be seen.