BMW recently showed its autonomous technology roadmap to a select group of media personalities at the BMW Technology Office in Mountain View, CA, one of the research sites working with Munich to innovate and seed the future of autonomous driving.   The meeting covered BMW’s current progress as well as its planned stages toward introducing a family of robot cars.

To make a long story short, self-driving BMW models arrive in 2021.  Dr. Klaus Buettner, BMW’s Head of Autonomous Driving group, offered those in attendance insight into their philosophy and also a calendar of progress.  BMW, is taking a path significantly more cautious and incremental than other automakers. In case you need a refresher, here’s how most brands in the industry quantify and distinguish the levels of autonomous driving:

Level 0 – Hands, eyes and mind required.  A fully-manual car.

Level 1 – Hands, eyes and mind required.  Supportive longitudinal or lateral guidance.

Level 2 – Hands temporary off, eyes temporary off, traffic control and longitudinal or lateral guidance.

Level 3 – Hands and eyes off, but mind (awareness) required in case of need for human intervention.

Level 4 – Hands, eyes and mind off, no human intervention required.

Level 5 – Hands, eyes and mind off, no manual driving or driver

For BMW, the first autonomous car will be the BMW iNEXT car, scheduled for release in 2021, and it will be a Level 3.   The autonomy suite will also be only an option.  “There is a contradiction in brand values between manual driving and autonomous driving,” Dr. Buettner says. “How to deal with both expectations?”

As the BMW iNEXT and its adopters explore Level 3, BMW will be hard at work perfecting Level 4 and Level 5.  BMW’s autonomy platform is obviously extremely complex, incorporating cutting edge developments in high-performance computing, artificial intelligence, visual recognition and validation methods, raw data processing, system safety and much more, all of which require an extensive collaboration with other automakers and tech companies to master the driverless car.

Currently, BMW has 40 7 Series models equipped with self-driving tech in and around Munich, with more on the way.  It eventually plans to have 185 test cars on the road.  By 2019, it will have 100 vehicle with highly-automated driving and fully-automated driving being tested in various locations worldwide.  BMW explained that though they have the capability to release a fleet of Level 3-capable vehicles today, they prefer to take a more cautious approach and fully perfect the product before public release.