From Audi to Volvo, the world's automakers are pushing hard to have their autonomous cars ready for general consumption, but BMW's CEO has just given one of the clearest indications yet of when we can first expect to give up the steering wheel. Speaking at a shareholder meeting this week, Harald Krüger said the Bavarian giant would have an autonomous vehicle called the i NEXT on the road by 2021.
We don't know for sure what the i NEXT will look like, but Krüger describes it as BMW's "new innovation driver, with autonomous driving, digital connectivity, intelligent lightweight design, a totally new interior and ultimately bringing the next generation of electro-mobility to the road."
If you've been following BMW's concept cars recently, none of these elements will come as a surprise. The iVision Future Interaction Concept demonstrated a three-display interior setup, designed to connect owners with the outside world without overwhelming them with information, while the Vision Next 100 showed off a center console and steering wheel that fold away when you want to kick back and let the car do the work.
Interestingly, Krüger was quick to acknowledge the emotion involved in making the move to autonomous e-mobility, and said industry-wide cooperation on self-driving is crucial to getting the technology off the ground.
"The discussion about e-mobility is an emotional one, but the decisive factor is that we move things forward. I am certain that government measures will prove effective," he said.
"It is always better to make a decision than to wait – and the purchase incentive will directly benefit customers. There was never any doubt that we would participate. Such a participation by the industry is unique worldwide. After all, the only way to make progress is by manufacturers, customers, lawmakers and society all working together."
The announcement comes amid a push from Volvo to expand its self-driving research across China and the UK, while a team of truck manufacturers recently proved the worth of autonomous platooning during their trek across Europe.
It seems the autonomous car revolution is coming, whether you like it or not.