SHANGHAI – China will be a leading market for the development of highly automated driving, according to Dr. René Weis, senior vice president of R&D Center at BMW China Services Ltd.
Weis made the comments while speaking about BMW’s efforts in China in the area of digitalization, automated driving and sustainability, after a keynote delivered by Olaf Kastner, president and CEO of BWM Group Region China, at CES Asia in Shanghai on May 12.
In fact, the BMW i Vision Future Interaction concept on display at CES Asia reflects the company’s vision where digitalization, automated driving and sustainability will be the three new characteristics for future mobility, and BMW is working on all three areas to tailor its products and services to Chinese customers’ needs.
“China has very diverse traffic situations and driving behaviors so highly automated driving in China will be a challenge,” said Weis. “But compared to other countries, highly automated driving in China has a large potential to reduce traffic accidents, and very unique to China is the age of our customers who are open to new ideas and new concepts.”
Weis stressed that joint collaboration of all key players is necessary to make highly automated driving an reality and BMW has teamed up with local partners like Ministry of Transport’s Research Institute of Highway and Baidu, using its cloud services and maps. Together they have so far conducted several thousand km of road testing in highly automated mode with systems adapting to Chinese traffic environment.
Kastner, in his keynote, warned that legal, moral and ethical principles have to be observed and newly defined and making the software and access to cars absolutely hack-proof is a must. “We as a manufacturer will only roll out such new technologies once the legal framework is completely defined, otherwise very complex corporate responsibility issues might be triggered,” said Kastner.
Besides automated driving, BMW’s more than 600 product engineers and at least as many production quality engineers in China, representing the largest R&D footprint outside of Germany, are also innovating in other areas, according to Weis.
One of them is natural language understanding, or NLU, and BMW is the first OEM in the premium segment to launch the technology.
It applies to infotainment and navigation services in the car and offers a unique experience as customers do not need to memorize any fixed command string for operation, and they can speak freely to the car. “For instance, we have service number dialing, so you can say ‘China Unicom’ even though there is no China Unicom service number stored in the phone book,” said Weis. “We also cooperate with navigation partners for navigation and destination search where a customer can just say a place, appoint of interest and we will search it and set it as your destination.”
BMW’s ConnectedDrive, launched in 2012 in China, makes the brand the only OEM in China that provides connected service throughout its vehicle lineup, according to Weis. It comes in base, standard and premium packages as well as an online store which is a digital platform that support future diversified online business opportunities including third-party payment options such as Alipay and WeChatpay.
BMW has also started a Lab Portal that went online on May 6, where BMW Drive products and services in development phase are published for customers to try and test. “Via BMW Lab Portal, customers can play an active role in shaping the future of BMW ConnectedDrive services,” said Weis.
In order to bring comprehensive services of mobility, BMW has developed and is offering the so-called “NOW” services piloting in numerous cities and countries including China. They are namely DriveNOW as a BMW’s car sharing company in charge of web based services, ParkNow to find parking service as well as ChargeNow for intelligent e-charging points.
According to Weis, more than 500 charging pillars have been deployed in the ChargeNow network in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Shenyang, and the plan is to triple that number to 1,500 by yearend.
“The world of mobility appears going through iconic changes once again. Highly autonomous driving, digitalization, mobility on demand, younger customers, and the post ‘85 and ‘90s generations with substantial different likings and dislikings are fields and challenges we all face,” said Kastner. “Our clear conviction and vision at BMW Group is to be a leading provider of premium mobility solutions, with our core BMW Group products, the car as well as services around it.”