BMW will introduce SAE Level 3 system in the BMW 7-Series (but not the all-electric i7) in the spring of 2024 in Germany, allowing eyes-off, hands-off operation at speeds of up to 37 mph.
The Level 3 system, dubbed BMW Personal Pilot L3, is distinct from the BMW Highway Assistant, which is a Level 2 system and requires the driver to remain alert at all times.
The Level 3 system won't be offered in the US, at least not at first, as BMW would have to obtain regulatory permission from 50-plus jurisdictions.
BMW will follow in the footsteps of other automakers by introducing an SAE Level 3 semi-autonomous system in its flagship sedan, but not its electric i7 sibling. The first cars fitted with the necessary hardware and software will be delivered to buyers in Germany this spring, giving drivers eyes-off, hands-off driving flexibility.
Dubbed BMW Personal Pilot L3, the system will allow drivers to read or text while the system is in use, or even use the central infotainment screen as a TV.
"They can also use digital services for e.g. streaming videos from various providers on the central display during a journey," BMW promises.
Watching TV on the morning commute is close to the holy grail of driver-assist systems, even though Level 3 systems have their own limitations. But it's still a big step up from Level 2 in most respects, one that should make people think long and hard about the actual utility of Level 2 driver-assist systems.
BMW Personal Pilot L3 should not be confused with the BMW Highway Assistant, which is a Level 2 system that requires drivers to keep their eyes on the road and hands on the steering wheel, with a driver monitoring system keeping track of driver attention.
But there will be some limitations.
Drivers will only be able to use this system at speeds of up to 37 mph, making it suitable for traffic jams and well-marked roads with low speed limits, but not much else.
As in other Level 3 systems, drivers won't be able to nap in the front seat or the back seat, because they'll have to be ready to take back control when the system requests it via acoustic and visual signals. If the driver does not reassume control within a certain amount of time, the car will gently slow down to a halt.
The Level 3 system will also be confined to "motorways with structurally separated carriageways," so two-lane roads separated by painted lines won't cut it. This will rule out quite a few rural roads in Germany.
One limitation the system won't face is use in the nighttime, with BMW crediting an advanced suite of sensors including radar, lidar, cameras, and ultrasonic sensors for this ability. We suspect this functionality has been added to make the system usable in traffic jams during wintertime commuting hours, when it can be quite dark.
But one place the system won't be usable is the US, thanks to current regulatory hurdles.
The automaker faces the unsavory prospect of getting its Level 3 system approved state by state, facing 50-plus jurisdictions. Incidentally, this is also the reason why Mercedes' own Level 3 system is likely to remain confined to a handful of autonomy-friendly jurisdictions in the US, at least for now.
Tesla's Full Self-Driving, despite the promise in the name, is a Level 2 system at its core, as it requires drivers to keep their eyes on the road at all times.
It remains to be seen whether the current regulatory landscape regarding Level 3 systems is a temporary roadblock or something likely to remain in place for years or decades.
But we don't foresee an easy federal-level solution until big business interests demand it en masse, likely as part of a push to allow Level 4 driverless commercial vehicles in order to reduce the number of truck driver jobs.
Do you think your state is prepared for a safe rollout of Level 3 conditional self-driving passenger cars, or Level 4 driverless commercial vehicles? Please comment below.