• The firm said half the R&D staff will soon be computer programmers 
  • These programmers will build the brains for self-driving cars
  • It recently partnered with Baidu on a self-driving car for trials in China
  • Autonomous cars from BMW will rival those from Google and Tesla  

Victoria Woollaston for MailOnline

After a century of building what it
calls the ‘ultimate driving machine’, BMW is preparing for a
world in which its customers will be mere passengers, and the
cars will do the driving themselves.

Days before its 100th birthday, a board member for
research and development has described plans for a completely
overhauled company. 

He revealed BMW’s plans where half the R&D staff will be computer
programmers, competing with the likes of Google parent Alphabet
to build the brains for self-driving cars.

BMW has said it plans to make half the R&D staff computer programmers, competing with the likes of Google parent Alphabet to build the brains for self-driving cars. The firm recently partnered with Baidu on a self-driving car (pictured) in China

BMW has said it plans to make half the R&D staff computer programmers, competing with the likes of Google parent Alphabet to build the brains for self-driving cars. The firm recently partnered with Baidu on a self-driving car (pictured) in China

‘For me it is a core competence to have the most intelligent
car,’ Klaus Froehlich told Reuters in an interview at the Geneva
auto show. 

‘Our task is to preserve our business model without
surrendering it to an internet player.

‘Otherwise we will end up
as the Foxconn for a company like Apple,
delivering only the metal bodies for them.’

GERMANY’S SELF-DRIVING CARS

Germany’s premium auto makers are at the centre of the
country’s global reputation for meticulous engineering.
Chancellor Angela Merkel will attend BMW’s birthday bash at its
Munich headquarters on Monday.

But with the expected shift in focus from a car’s body to
its brains, the risk is that the expertise will accumulate in
silicon valley or in China, rather than Germany’s carmaking
regions of Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemburg. 

BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen’s Audi
are each making an effort to build a hub for
automotive software and services. 

They clubbed together to buy
digital map maker HERE from Nokia last year to create
a neutral platform where smart cars can share data on road and
traffic conditions.

BMW’s own recent hiring included a 200-strong digital
innovation team in Chicago, most of whom had worked for Nokia,
the Finnish mobile phone pioneer.

BMW will have to ramp up quickly, striking deals with a new
network of suppliers, many from outside the traditional
automotive industry.

‘We have some catching up to do in the area of machine
learning and artificial intelligence,’ Froehlich said.

Today, software engineers make up just 20 per cent of the
30,000 employees, contractors and supplier staff 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. 

He added that German schools are not producing
enough tech engineers for BMW to hire them all in house.

As software becomes as important as hardware, another
cultural shift could see BMW free up resources by licensing out
technology produced by its own engineers, such as drivetrains
for electric and hybrid vehicles.

‘Going forward we will sell electric drivetrains,’ Froehlich added.

‘We see many smaller manufacturers who cannot afford to
develop a plug-in hybrid.’ 

BMW said data gathered from a car's onboard sensors will be combined with remote information, for example about weather and traffic, using next generation mobile networks, also known as 5G. Any autonomous cars will rival the ones being developed by Google's parent company Alphabet (pictured) 

BMW said data gathered from a car’s onboard sensors will be combined with remote information, for example about weather and traffic, using next generation mobile networks, also known as 5G. Any autonomous cars will rival the ones being developed by Google’s parent company Alphabet (pictured) 

One of Google's driverless cars was recently pulled over in Mountain View, Silicon Valley, for driving more than 10mph (16km/h) below the street's speed limit in November (pictured)

One of Google’s driverless cars was recently pulled over in Mountain View, Silicon Valley, for driving more than 10mph (16km/h) below the street’s speed limit in November (pictured)

Among the areas Froehlich identified where BMW will still
need partners is in cloud computing, the technology of storing
data and software remotely and accessing it over the internet. 

Data gathered from a car’s onboard sensors will be combined with
remote information, for example about weather and traffic, using
next generation mobile networks, also known as 5G.

The ultimate aim would be to build as much expertise
in-house as possible, although there could be mutual benefits
from working with new outside suppliers.

‘The thinking here is: they too have weaknesses and there
may be some win win situations,’ Froehlich said of potential new
suppliers. 

‘Nonetheless I need to build our own in-house
competence in the next 5 to 6 years.’

A recent video shows Tesla's driverless car being summoned by its owner. It then begins to roll into the driveway until it makes its way into the garage (pictured)

A recent video shows Tesla’s driverless car being summoned by its owner. It then begins to roll into the driveway until it makes its way into the garage (pictured)

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