BMW says rival carmakers are set to join forces to take on the threat of tech giants developing self driving vehicles

  •  BMW consortium now includes Mobileye, Magna, Fiat Chrysler and auto suppliers Delphi Automotive and Continental AG
  • Set to expand as carmakers battle Apple, Google, Tesla, Uber and others 
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BMW rivals and ride-hailing companies are considering joining its consortium for developing self-driving cars as auto industry profits come under increasing pressure, board member Klaus Froehlich said on Tuesday.

Carmakers and ride-hailing companies have sought to build self-driving cars as a way to enter the business of smartphone-hailed robotaxis. 

However, they are entering a crowded field where the likes of Apple and Alphabet Inc have been pouring billions of dollars into cars that can drive themselves.


Harald Kruger, CEO and Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW AG, poses in front of the new BMW series 3 during a media preview at the Auto show in Paris.  Carmakers and ride-hailing companies have sought to build self-driving cars as a way to enter the business of smartphone-hailed robotaxis.

‘Unfortunately, everybody thought they would be the winner and would have an enormous ride-sharing business,’ BMW board member Klaus Froehlich told Reuters on the sidelines of the Paris Motor Show.

BMW, however, wanted to spread the cost of investment and started a consortium that now includes Mobileye, Magna, Fiat Chrysler and auto suppliers Delphi Automotive and Continental AG.

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The technology is proving complex and the returns on investment are taking longer to materialise, causing investors to scrutinise whether go-it-alone strategies make sense.


The likes of Apple, Alphabet and Tesla (pictured, the firm’s Model 3) have been pouring billions of dollars into cars that can drive themselves

‘I have had another German carmaker saying, ‘it sounds like we wasted a lot of money’. I also have had contact from tier one suppliers who say ‘lets do a common platform’,’ Froehlich said.

‘Some ride-hailing companies have also expressed interest in joining the consortium.’

Froehlich would not be drawn on who might join the consortium beyond saying ‘there may be some news on this next year’.

HOW DO SELF-DRIVING CARS ‘SEE’?

Self-driving cars often use a combination of normal two-dimensional cameras and depth-sensing ‘LiDAR’ units to recognise the world around them.

In LiDAR (light detection and ranging) scanning – which is used by Waymo – one or more lasers send out short pulses, which bounce back when they hit an obstacle.

These sensors constantly scan the surrounding areas looking for information, acting as the ‘eyes’ of the car.

While the units supply depth information, their low resolution makes it hard to detect small, faraway objects without help from a normal camera linked to it in real time.

In November last year Apple revealed details of its driverless car system that uses lasers to detect pedestrians and cyclists from a distance.

The Apple researchers said they were able to get ‘highly encouraging results’ in spotting pedestrians and cyclists with just LiDAR data.

They also wrote they were able to beat other approaches for detecting three-dimensional objects that use only LiDAR.

Other self-driving cars generally rely on a combination of cameras, sensors and lasers. 

An example is Volvo’s self driving cars that rely on around 28 cameras, sensors and lasers.

A network of computers process information, which together with GPS, generates a real-time map of moving and stationary objects in the environment.

Twelve ultrasonic sensors around the car are used to identify objects close to the vehicle and support autonomous drive at low speeds.

A wave radar and camera placed on the windscreen reads traffic signs and the road’s curvature and can detect objects on the road such as other road users.

Four radars behind the front and rear bumpers also locate objects.

Two long-range radars on the bumper are used to detect fast-moving vehicles approaching from far behind, which is useful on motorways.

Four cameras – two on the wing mirrors, one on the grille and one on the rear bumper – monitor objects in close proximity to the vehicle and lane markings. 

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