The “ultimate driving machine” may soon be a reality, BMW investing in self-driving cars

BMW to focus on self-driving cars to compete in expanding market.

BMW Group, which has been building cars for 100 years and has touted their models as the “ultimate driving machine,” says they plan to re-tool the company to compete with Google and others in the field of driver-less cars, and they are preparing for the world where the cars drive themselves, according to an article on autonews.com.

Klaus Froehlich, a board member of BMW’s research and development, talked about the company’s plans at the Geneva auto show, and said the core competence of the company is to have the most intelligent car.  Froehlich spoke of plans where half of the research and development staff would be computer programmers building the intelligence systems for the auto-driving cars.

“Our task is to preserve our business model without surrendering it to an internet player,” said Froehlich, adding, “Otherwise we will end up as the Foxconn for a company like Apple, delivering only the metal bodies for them.”  Froehlich admitted the company had some “catching up to do” in the areas of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Currently, the staff make-up at BMW includes about 20 percent of the 30,000 employees, contractors and supply staff in the R&D department, that are software engineers, and Froehlich says they would like to get to about a 50:50 ratio within five years.  To reach that number, they will need another 15-20,000 people from supplier partnerships and elsewhere.  Froehlich adds German schools are not producing enough tech engineers for the company to hire them all in-house.

German auto makers have long been recognized as premium craftsmen in the industry, but the focus is shifting from the auto itself to the intelligence that runs the automobile, and the German segment is concerned the expertise required to manufacture the new self-driving cars will be accumulating in areas like the Silicon Valley or China.  BMW hopes to retain and increase the talent pool available in the country.

The ultimate goal of the company is to have as much of the auto-intelligence capabilities in-house as practical, but the firm sees advantages to working with new outside suppliers, who could also benefit from BMW’s engineering prowess.

“Nonetheless,” said Froehlich, “I need to build our own in-house competence in the next 5 to 6 years.”

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