BMW Traffic Jam Assistant puts self-driving car closer than you think

BMW Traffic Jam Assistant puts self-driving car closer than you think

All the buzz surrounding autonomous, or self-driving cars usually includes a caveat that this technology is at least 10 years away from being ready for prime time, even though Audi, Google, and Lexus have already been racking up miles and showing such vehicles at media events. But BMW thinks that the ultimate self-driving machine is closer than you think.

While automakers freely acknowledge that the technology for self-driving cars is already here, they say that various legal and regulatory issues are what will keep them unavailable for years.

Truthfully, almost every new model introduction seems to include increasing pieces of the technology, from wider use of systems like lane keeping assistants to prevent you from wandering in traffic, to adaptive cruise control that can maintain pace with the ebb and flow of traffic.

With the introduction of the next generation X5 SUV coming this fall, BMW will bring self-driving cars one step closer to reality with their new Traffic Jam Assistant feature. Basically combining such environment-monitoring technologies into the whole self-driving enchilada, Traffic Jam Assistant will enable drivers to sit back in traffic and eat said enchilada while the car drives itself at speeds up to 25 mph.

While the driver is dining and anticipating the inevitable heartburn (only made worse by crawling along in traffic), the X5 will keep itself centered in its lane, accelerating and decelerating as traffic allows, and even coming to a stop and restarting as necessary. All it requires of the driver is to eat with one hand, and leave the other on the wheel.

Traffic Jam Assistant cannot negotiate off ramps or other intersections yet, although BMW is working on it and prototypes have successfully exited one highway and merged onto another. BMW has not announced pricing, but we'll be sampling Traffic Jam Assistant and the rest of the X5 at our test track as soon as we can. And, we'll make sure to have lunch first.

—Jim Travers

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