Once upon a time, all that car companies could think about in December was the upcoming Detroit Auto Show (and year-end sales, of course). But as high-tech features have become strong selling points with consumers, another January event has drawn the attention of auto industry types: the Consumer Electronics Show, which typically happens in Las Vegas just before Detroit.
Among the many automakers motoring to Nevada for CES 2015 will be BMW, which will show off two new offerings: a 360-degree collision avoidance system and autonomous features that let owners use smartwatches to park and retrieve their BMWs from garages.
BMW chose the all-electric i3 as the guinea pig for both technologies, which employ a network of laser scanners placed at four points on the vehicle. Those scanners not only identify objects in the vehicle's path, but also account for factors like the vehicle's speed and apply the brakes if the car is on a collision course with one or more objects. (BMW is careful to note that the system can be overridden by a driver at any time.)
Given the abundance of collision avoidance systems found on production and concept cars these days, all that might leave you feeling a bit meh. But what's definitely not old hat is BMW's Remote Valet Parking Assistant, which allows owners to park and retrieve vehicles using a smartwatch app (and presumably one that works on smartphones, too).
The Parking Assistant does have some limitations, especially in parking garages, where the effectiveness of GPS is minimized. However, in other lots, and in garages that have been digitally mapped, the system uses those maps and its laser scanners to drive itself around. BMW explains:
"If the driver uses the Smartwatch to activate the fully-automated Remote Valet Parking Assistant, the system will steer the vehicle independently through the levels, while the driver has already got out of the car and is on his way to a business appointment [ed. note: or to a movie or the mall]. The fully automated Remote Valet Parking Assistant recognises the structural features of the car park and equally reliably steers round any obstacles that appear unexpectedly – such as incorrectly parked vehicles. Once the BMW i3 has arrived at the parking space, the vehicle locks itself and waits to be called by Smartwatch and voice command. The fully automated Remote Valet Parking Assistant then calculates the exact time until the driver arrives at the car park and starts up the BMW i3 so that it arrives at the car park exit at exactly the right time."
If it works as planned, the Remote Valet Parking Assistant will represent one of the most thoughtful applications of autonomous driving technology we've seen. No word when it might debut on BMW vehicles, but we're hoping for more information to be revealed at CES in January. Stay tuned.