Login

The self-drifting car: taking a BMW to the limit in Las Vegas

BMW CES 2014

Self-driving cars aren't supposed to make you puke, are they?

A couple laps in BMW's latest autonomous driving demo, taking place here at CES this week, are all it took to get me feeling a little woozy. And there's a good reason for that: the car was whipping itself around an infield road track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway at the very outer limits of its capabilities, guided only be its own high-resolution GPS and the usual array of sensors found on every automakers' self-driving cars.

There's method to BMW's madness

As thrilling and entertaining as the ride was, there's actually method to BMW's madness. The company notes that self-driving systems won't really be ready for prime time until they're able to handle all road situations — including emergency maneuvers, the kinds of extreme turns that test the car's ability to keep traveling in a straight line.

And so, yes, that's how I ended up with my stomach in my throat, drifting a beautiful 6 Gran Coupe around a curve. The asphalt was even hosed down with water just to make things a little more interesting (as if they weren't interesting enough already). It's the exact opposite of the stereotypical Google self-driving Prius plodding down a sunny California interstate at a reasonable speed.

The demonstration was an exclamation point that researchers in the auto industry are starting to get a handle on making self-driving cars practical (and safe) in even non-optimal driving conditions, but there's still lots of work to do: BMW researchers programmed the car specifically to navigate this track. That's a lot different from driving onto a highway on-ramp and hitting a patch of black ice.

Hold tight for a few years if you want a totally automated car

That's part of the explanation why BMW — like virtually all automakers — says that fully automated cars are still years away. Werner Huber, who leads BMW's automated driving efforts, says that 2020 is a reasonable estimate. In the meantime, we've got a $75,000 sedan screaming around a track that looks like it's pulled straight out of Project Gotham Racing, and I'm totally okay with that.

The Verge
X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.