Yesterday, we checked out BMW's demo area in front of the South Hall at CES 2015. The company was showcasing its next gen tech and letting reporters test drive everything from the i3 electric hatchback to the M3 sports sedan.
First, we got to see the next gen iDrive tech, which now (finally) includes a touchscreen, in addition to the existing (and oft-criticized) "hockey puck"-like controller and voice input. The system features a glove-friendly capacitive display and lets you transition seamlessly between the iDrive controller and the touchscreen. In addition, this new version provides gesture recognition via an overhead camera located in the area next to the map lights. Gestures are pretty intuitive – for example, spinning your finger clockwise in mid-air increases the volume system-wide, and just extending your hand towards the touchscreen accepts an incoming call. BMW's tech is context sensitive and allows you to gesture during a call without triggering any unwanted commands (see the video above).
Another significant bit of tech is BMW's next gen ActiveAssist, which was fitted to a modified i3. Instead of the familiar roof-mounted spinning LIDAR sensor, this research vehicle incorporates four wide-angle LIDAR sensors, one on each side of the car (below the front and rear bumpers, and on the side of each front fender). This lets the vehicle avoid fixed and even slow-moving obstacles at up to 15mph by braking automatically. While this sensor configuration is unable to provide a complete 360-degree "view" around the i3 (there are blind spots), the system uses computer modeling to predict the position of the car and surrounding obstacles in real time (every 1/10th of a second). How effective is this tech? We watched one of BMW's drivers repeatedly try and fail to hit various (soft) obstacles in this vehicle, and also got to experience the system as passengers. It looks pretty bulletproof, stopping the vehicle even as it maneuvered around obstacles that were about scrape the sides (see video below).
This modified i3 is actually capable of navigating and parking autonomously in a multi-storey garage using only a stored map of the facility. BMW calls this the Remote Valet Parking Assistant, and was demoing a basic version of the tech with a production car (using just the ultrasonic parking sensors) summoned by a Samsung Galaxy Gear S. And speaking of smartwatches, the company was also showing remote locking with a Moto 360 – just walk away to lock your vehicle and shake your watch near your car to unlock (this, in addition to the regular keyfob functionality, of course).
Finally, BMW gave us a demo of its upcoming Connected Mobility platform, a cloud-based system that integrates remote vehicle monitoring, mapping, real-time traffic, public transit info, and your calendar into a comprehensive one-stop hub. The idea is to help you make decisions on how to get around more efficiently (both in terms of time and resources) – it's a transportation assistant of sorts. We saw the system running on a Moto X, a Moto 360, and a Samsung smart TV. Most of the tech BMW showed us yesterday is expected to roll out (literally, in some cases) within the next couple years, so we'll be able test it in the wild pretty soon.