Driverless cars will revolutionise motoring, claim the manufacturers. But is the greatest danger that they will be too safe?
In the BMW museum at the company’s solidly futuristic headquarters, next to the old Olympic stadium site in Munich, you can view a century of evolving mechanical desire. BMW has long prided itself in creating “ultimate driving machines” and all that Bavarian engineering pride is dramatised in the decade-by-decade progression of engines that harness ever more efficient power in steel, and car bodies that have moved with the ergonomic times. Each sequence of cars on show leaves a gap at one end, ready to showcase the next generation of technical advancement. Over the past century, innovation has smoothly followed innovation; it is likely, however, that the next stage will be a paradigm shift rather than a marginal gain. The next empty space, or the one after, is likely to be filled by the ultimate driverless machine.
The person leading BMW’s prototype efforts to make that car a reality, Michael Aeberhard, does not want to see it in those terms. As he takes me for a drive in what seems a regular 5 Series, he is at pains to suggest that the new model now in gestation is simply another improved iteration of what has gone before.