In the not-too-distant future, self-driving BMWs will have the ability to see through a myriad of challenging and varied conditions via high-definition, solid-state LiDAR unit. Thanks to a partnership between Magna and Innoviz, a contract has recently been awarded for the two firms to supply BMW with the new device, which is on display below. Remember the radical new kidney-grille design that debuted on the Concept iX3? It looks like the perfect place for the new hardware to be mounted.

Specifics relating to the magic behind how the new tech works haven’t been divulged in great detail, but capabilities and implications have been on display. Said to allow the embracing of Level 4 autonomy—we’re currently at Level 2, and the highest tier, Level 5, entails being able to dial up a driver-less transportation module as you stumble out of the local tavern—an array of sensors in combination with Manga’s own Icon radar system generate what’s referred to as a point cloud, which essentially paints a 3D image of a vehicle’s surroundings.

Similar systems and technology are currently available in high-end offerings from various manufacturers; they allow for lower levels of autonomous function, but nothing on par with the extremely detailed, high-fidelity imagery from Innoviz that has been seen so far. (Remember Mercedes-Benz’s Distronic cruise control which debuted in 1999? Nissan actually beat them to market by a full seven years with their own Distance Warning system on their domestic-market Debonair back in 1992.)

While the colorful 3D mapping is certainly fascinating in its own right, the implications of full implementation are profound. Avoiding a deep-dive into the details, Magna already has an established relationship with mobility service Lyft, and BMW has also been working with chipmaker Intel and Mobile Eye on its own internal programs. Previously, BMW’s venture-funding arm had invested in LiDAR firm Blackmore Sensors and Analytics, although we don’t know if their developments have found their way into testing yet.

The roughly one-minute video below does a nice job of highlighting the capabilities of the new InnovizOne unit. The finite detail and pinpoint accuracy of the renderings are impressive, and it looks like ultra-low-latency sensing capability is well within the realm of possibility.—Alex Tock

[Photos and video courtesy of Innoviz Technologies, Magna International Inc.]



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