Automobile giants Daimler AG and BMW Group today announced plans to collaborate on automated driving developments, with plans to be market ready by the mid 2020s. Initially aimed at advancing the development of driver assistance systems, automated driving on highways, and parking features (up to SAE Level 4), the two companies signed a memorandum of understanding to jointly develop the technology.
“Autonomous driving is one of the most revolutionary trends for us at the moment, and the entire Daimler Group is working very hard on it,” said Ola Källenius, member of the board of management of Daimler AG, in a statement. “As always at Daimler, our top priority is safety. Instead of individual, stand-alone solutions, we want to develop a reliable overall system that offers noticeable added-value for customers. Working with the right partners, we want to make significant advances in enhancing the performance of this technology and bring it safely on the road.”
Klaus Fröhlich, a member of the board of management at BMW Group, said there was an advantage of combining the expertise of the two companies. “At the BMW Group, long-term partnerships within a flexible, scalable, non-exclusive platform are fundamental to advancing the industrialization of autonomous driving,” he said. “Combining the key expertise of our two companies will boost our innovative strength and speed up the spread of this technology.”
Faster to market, shorter cycles
The companies said the cooperation between the two groups will provide skills and experience of individual partners to create a scalable architecture that speeds and streamlines the development of future technology. In addition, new technologies will be faster to market, with shorter innovation cycles, the companies said.
Joint development work will cover several stages of automation, with Levels 3 and 4 enabling automated driving on highways, the companies said. In addition, the partners plan to discuss extending the collaboration to cover higher levels of automation, on highways and urban areas. “These considerations underline the sustainable, long-term nature of the cooperation, which includes the aim to create a scalable platform for automated driving,” the companies said. Ongoing development of technologies and existing collaborations will remain unaffected by this latest partnership, and both companies will explore additional partnerships with other technology companies and automotive manufacturers “that could contribute to the success of the platform.”
Daimler AG (Mercedes-Benz Cars and Vans, Daimler Trucks and Buses) said it has been working on projects for Level 3, 4, and 5 vehicles. The company plans to launch this year a pilot program in San Jose, Calif., with Bosch, on self-driving vehicles (Levels 4/5) in urban environments. Early next decade, Daimler said it will bring Level 3 and Level 4/5 vehicles to the market. “It is the only OEM in the world to be so well-positioned to apply autonomous driving in every relevant context, from passenger cars and vans to buses and trucks, and is therefore relying on scalable solutions to deliver automated driving,” Daimler AG said.
The BMW Group (BMW, MINI, Rolls-Royce and BMW Motorrad) said it has been working on projects for automated driving since 2006, and has established a non-exclusive platform with technology specialists, suppliers, and OEMS to mature the platform. Since 2017, work has been done at its Autonomous Driving Campus in Unterschleissheim, Germany, just north of Munich. The company said more than 70 test vehicles worldwide are trialing its technology, collecting data to improve machine learning with artificial intelligence through simulations and new Level 2 through 5 functions on the road. “The generation of technologies that is currently under development will go into series production as Level 3 automation in 2021 in the BMW iNEXT, where it will also be Level 4 enabled for pilot projects,” BMW said.
Friends, but also competitors
Dr. Michael Hafner, head of driving technologies and automated driving at Mercedes-Benz, wrote a blog post about the new collaboration, saying that the alliance makes sense “because automated driving is a future-oriented technology that will radically transform our industry – and because in the long run we will be not only stronger but also more successful as partners than we would be alone.”
While the company has made strides on reaching Level 2, Hafner said the development of these systems is similar to climbing a mountain. “Taking the first few meters from the base station to the summit seems easy. But the closer you come to the goal, the thinner the air around you becomes, the more strength is required for each further step, and the more complex become the challenges you have to resolve in order to make progress… We believe that BMW is the perfect partner for us as we climb the next few meters.”
That said, Hafner said the two companies will stay competitors. “Our competition has been a major factor that has repeatedly spurred us to deliver top performance and put both of us at the leading edge of the premium segment,” he said. “The partnership we are announcing today will not become a new joint venture. And don’t worry – it won’t create a vehicle that sports BMW’s ‘double kidney’ radiator grille as well as the Mercedes star on its hood.”