Update: A BMW spokesperson got back to us with the following reply regarding the feature's availability in the United States:
"With Level 3’s limited deployment possibilities in the U.S. at the moment, we feel that our current Level 2 and Level 2+ systems offer customers across the country excellent driver assistance options. For example, BMW Highway Assistant provides the convenience of attentive hands-free driving at speeds up to 85 mph when conditions allow."
In other words, we won't see a Level 3-capable BMW driving down American roads anytime soon. The original story follows below.
BMW will become the world’s second automaker to offer a Level 3 highly automated driving assistance system when its Personal Pilot L3 feature becomes available on the latest-generation 7 Series (including the i7) later this year in Germany.
The maker of the i5 will follow in the footsteps of Mercedes-Benz, which started fitting the S-Class with a similar system earlier this year. Priced at roughly $6,400 (€6,000), the BMW Personal Pilot L3 feature allows the driver to take his hands off the steering wheel and his eyes off the road at speeds of up to 37 miles per hour (60 kilometers per hour) on highways with structurally separated carriageways.
BMW says the system is the first of its kind that can also be used in the dark, thanks to its “particularly sophisticated sensors.” Personal Pilot L3 will hit the order books in December and the first cars to be fitted with it will roll off the production line in March of next year, according to the German company.
Gallery: BMW Personal Pilot L3 - Level 3 automated driving system
The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) defines a Level 3 automated driving system as being capable of steering, accelerating, braking, lane-centering, and keeping an appropriate distance from the car in front. However, the biggest difference between a Level 2 system – such as Tesla’s so-called Full Self-Driving (FSD) – and a Level 3 one is that the person behind the steering wheel of a Level 3-equipped car is not driving the vehicle. However, the human sitting in the driver’s seat must take control of the car when the feature requests it.
In the case of BMW’s system, the company says that the driver has to be ready to reassume the task of driving at any time. If the feature requests a human take over but that doesn’t happen, the car will come to a controlled standstill.
BMW’s Level 3 driving assistant works by putting together data from a live high-definition map, “extremely accurate GPS” location-finding, 360-degree sensors, several video cameras, ultrasonic sensors, radar sensors, and a 3D lidar sensor. A 5G cellular connection is also offered as part of the package.
The German automaker doesn’t say if its see-in-the-dark Level 3 system will make it to the United States, where Mercedes-Benz is currently the only manufacturer to offer such a feature. We reached out to BMW of North America to find out whether or not Personal Pilot L3 will reach U.S. shores, and will update this article when we hear back.
With this being said, would you take a gamble and try out BMW’s hands-free system if you had the chance? Let us know in the comments below.