This week in Germany, BMW unveiled a pair of new safety technologies aimed at curtailing one of the most common types of incidents in that country -- impacts caused by driver inattention while making a left- or U-turn. Both are designed to more fully exploit the capabilities of a car's on-board navigation system. According to BMW, these two innovations, left turn assistant and Car-to-x communication, offer a preview of what we could see in many of its future production models.
Developed by BMW's R&D operation as part of the INTERSAFE2 initiative, a consortium of 11 European carmakers, left turn assistant does exactly what its name implies: helps warn a driver of oncoming traffic and takes action should those warning go unheeded. Demonstrated in a 5 Series Sedan, it automatically swings into action and integrates information from the car's on-board navigation system plus a separate in-car camera that reads road markings to establish when a driver has entered a left-turn lane and do so at an accuracy level down to one meter. At that point, three laser scanners map the area ahead up to 100 meters (328 feet), looking for cars, trucks and motorcycles. If they detect a potential oncoming threat and the driver fails to respond, the system automatically sound an audible warning, flashes a signal in the instrument cluster and head-up display and simultaneously applies the brakes in a low speed range up to 10 km/h (6 mph). As soon as the driver steps on the brake pedal, the system disengages. It also can be overridden by pressing the throttle.
One step beyond the capabilities of left lane assistant, BMW's Car-to-x communication adds a dedicated WLAN device that offers an expanded range of up to 250 meters (820 feet) and can also detect the presence of vehicles not in the direct line of sight, should they also be fitted with a similar Car-to-x communication package. In that case, the two interact with each other to exchange information on speed, distance and steering angle at which point Car-to-x uses an algorithm to determine if a collision is likely. Should it decide a crash is imminent; it will trigger a series of increasingly intense headlight flashes and horn beeps by the oncoming vehicle as well as engage left turn assistant on the car in active turning mode.
So far, BMW has only demonstrated these new technologies on left-hand-drive vehicles. No word yet on if or when they might be incorporated on models sold in Europe or the U.S.