BMW to invest in self-driving research and development

Klaus Froehlich, board member responsible for research and development at BMW.

By Mike Davey

Geneva, Switzerland — March 7, 2016 — This might seem odd for a company that has long billed itself as producing the “Ultimate Driving Machine,” but it looks like BMW is ramping up to enter the autonomous vehicle space.

Klaus Froehlich, BMW’s board member responsible for research and development, told a reporter from Reuters at the Geneva Auto Show that “it is a core competence to have the most intelligent car.”

During the interview, Froehlich described plans for an overhaul of the company. This includes an enormous boost in the number of software and computer professionals on the payroll. Currently software engineers make up just 20 percent of 30,000 people that work on research and development for BMW.

“If I need to get to a ratio of 50:50 within five years, I need to get manpower equivalent to another 15,000 to 20,000 people from partnerships with suppliers and elsewhere,” Froehlich said to Reuters.

The news that BMW will be developing an autonomous vehicle doesn’t come out of nowhere. Last year, BMW partnered with Mercedes Benz and Volkswagen to buy Nokia’s HERE, a digital map maker company. The idea was to create a platform for cars to share data on road conditions. BMW has already recently hired 200 people to work on digital innovation at its facility in Chicago. Even with these hires, BMW will likely need to increase its knowledge base substantially to compete with others in the autonomous vehicle space.

According to the report filed by Reuters, Froehlich indicates that the company needs to improve its knowledge of cloud computing and analysis of data gathered by the vehicle’s sensors.

“Our task is to preserve our business model without surrendering it to an Internet player,” Froehlich told Reuters. “Otherwise we will end up as the Foxconn for a company like Apple, delivering only the metal bodies for them.”


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