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“Greetings! I’m from the future”

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While most auto makers wrestle with the future of cars, BMW has delivered an experience from the future with the BMW i8, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, as he explores the technology of the vehicle.

It’s hard to resist the temptation, when stepping out of a BMW i8, to declare to the gaping bystanders: “Greetings! I’m from the future.”

It’s a car that makes the legendary DeLorean DMC-12 from the Back to the Future movies look positively 20th century. The “scissor doors” aren’t quite the gull-wings of the DeLorean, but that also makes it all the more sleek and practical. The latter is not, however, a word that one would typically associate with the i8.

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With a price starting at around R1,8-million, the car is aimed at people for whom money is no object, and for whom the experience is everything. But it is also proof that a production vehicle coming off the assembly lines can deliver the futuristic performance and experience that is usually associated with concept cars displayed only at motor shows.

They call it a “plug-in hybrid”, which means it has a petrol engine as well as an electric motor that can be recharged from a regular wall socket.  The rear-wheel drive petrol engine has a range of up to about 500km, depending on driving mode: Sport, Comfort and ECO PRO modes speak for themselves.

In pure electric mode, it has a range of up to 27km only, but the battery can be topped up while in Sports mode, thanks to “energy recuperation” which sees kinetic energy transferred from the brakes, among other sources, to the generator. The impact of advanced technology reveals itself most dramatically, however, in the vehicle’s startling fuel efficiency: 2,1L per 100km, when using a combination of electric and petrol engine. That’s less than a third of the consumption of some of the most fuel-efficient “normal” cars on the road.

BMW has installed quick-charge facilities around the country, and a built-in mapping option directs the driver to the nearest one when needed. It has an agreement with Nissan to standardise charging technology and collaborate in installing interoperable charge points for the Nissan Leaf, BMW i3 and the i8.

Let’s climb aboard.  But wait! First, download the app onto your smartphone or tablet.

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The BMW i Remote app is available for Android and iOS devices. From the app, the vehicle can be locked or unlocked remotely – via the Internet, rather than infrared, so one can do it from the other side of the world. The air conditioner can also be activated remotely before you reach it, a particularly welcome feature when the car has been standing in the hot sun for a while. Control of doors, windows, trunk, and lighting is all accessible via the app.

The car doors are heavy, but lift and close easily. The only discomfort is having to lower oneself into the car rear-first. It’s not difficult to get used to, but not especially elegant for anyone wearing a dress, for example. And certainly not for those who have back or movement trouble.

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And then the magic begins. It’s not so much the luxurious leather interior or the chrome finishes or even the sheer comfort of the reclining seats with their multiple controls.  The blue-lit lines and futuristic sound-effects when the car is activated – “start” is such an inadequate word to describe it – combine with the information-rich dashboard and 8.8-inch control display to suggest words like “spaceship” and “future” and “desire”.

The one negative is the navigational option on the control display. Not only is it fairly standard, but is even clunky. Destination choice uses a rotary system for choosing an address letter-by-letter. The voice recognition system should get round the painfulness of the system, but it results in the typical kind of voice-wrestling one associates with systems designed for American accents.

That said, BMW has reinvented even this option. Prior to a trip, one can visit the company’s Connected Drive portal and use its mapping system to find an address, and then send the address to the car. This means one simply opens the message from the menu on the control display and approves the destination.

And this is where the future truly arrives. The vehicle uses a subtle heads-up display system to beam both vehicle speed and current speed limit onto the windscreen, just below where one’s eyes would be focused on the road. If navigation has been activated, a streamlined version of map guidance appears on the windscreen, alongside the speed.  In direct contrast to the chunkiness of the control display navigation, the image provides dazzling clarity: distance to turn, action required and an uncluttered diagram of any intersection where the turn has to be made. Think Minority Report without the gesture control.

The heads-up display symbolizes the advanced technology of the car. One might call it a smartphone on wheels, but few smartphones are this smart. While your phone may sport Siri or Google Now or Cortana voice assistance, the i8 provides a real-life Concierge option: activate it, and a human being comes online to answer questions about destinations, attractions or facilities. Typically, the mapping coordinates are then emailed directly to the car, the option is selected, and map guidance begins.

In an emergency, a single Help button on the dashboard instantly dials an emergency call centre. If the car is in an accident and the airbags deploy, a signal is sent to the call centre, which calls back to see if help is needed. If there is no response, an emergency vehicle is immediately despatched.

The driving experience is magnificent. BMW uses the slogan “Magnetism not required to feel the force of attraction”, which sound meaningless until one takes a curve at normal driving speed. It feels as if the vehicle has attached itself to the road surface with Velcro, but without slowing down.

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The i8 is constructed from carbon fibre, plastic and aluminium, meaning it is ultra-lightweight and therefore highly responsive to controls. The material doesn’t make it unsafe either: carbon fibre surrounds the passenger area, creating what is called a “Life module” which, along with airbags, gives passengers maximum protection.

The weight also contributes to the vehicle’s fuel efficiency, and allows for a maximum speed – in petrol mode – of 250km/h. Acceleration is astounding: 0-100km/h in 4.4 seconds.

The aerodynamics of the vehicle are also key to its performance. It resembles nothing less than a Batmobile, with its sleek lines, low structure – what BMW refers to as a “flat silhouette” – and handleless doors. That low centre of gravity also provides the Velcro experience on curves.

Ultimately, the defining feature of the vehicle is the experience of being transported into the future. This is what one imagines the vehicles of tomorrow could deliver to all drivers.

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It is no wonder that the i8 attracts stares of delight, shock and even horror wherever it goes and whenever it stops. It is little wonder that people almost believe you for a moment when you lift open the door, step out and declare: “Greetings! I’m from the future.”

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

Cars

Auto rivals team up for connected car demo

Rivals BMW, Ford and Groupe PSA, maker of Peugeot and Opel cars, have teamed up with the 5G Automotive Association (5GAA), Qualcomm Technologies and Savari for Europe’s first live demonstration of C-V2X direct communication technology operating across vehicles from multiple auto manufacturers.

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The live demonstration also featured a live showcase of C-V2X direct communication technology operating between passenger cars, motorcycles, and roadside infrastructure. C-V2X is a global solution for vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication in support of improved automotive safety, automated driving and traffic efficiency.

The demonstration exhibited the road safety and traffic efficiency benefits of using C-V2X for Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) collision avoidance, as well as Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) connectivity to traffic signals and Traffic Management Centers (TMC). C-V2X was operated using real-time direct communications over ITS spectrum and demonstrated its ability to work without cellular network coverage, and underscores its commercial readiness for industry deployment as early as 2020. Superior performance and cost-effectiveness compared to other V2X technologies, along with forward-compatibility with 5G, make C-V2X direct communications a preferred solution for C-ITS applications.

Six demonstrations were shown including: Emergency Electronic Brake Light, Intersection Collision Warning, Across Traffic Turn Collision Risk Warning, Slow Vehicle Warning and Stationary Vehicle Warning, Signal Phase and Timing / Signal Violation Warning and Vulnerable Road User (pedestrian) Warning. The vehicles involved included two-wheel e-scooters provided by BMW Group, and automotive passenger vehicles provided by Ford, Groupe PSA, and BMW Group, all of which were equipped with C-V2X direct communication technology using the Qualcomm® 9150 C-V2X chipset solution.  V2X software stack and application software, along with roadside infrastructure, were provided by industry leader, Savari.

C-V2X is globally supported by a broad automotive ecosystem, which includes the fast growing 5GAA organization.  The 5GAA involves over 85 global members comprised of many leading automakers, Tier-1 suppliers, software developers, mobile operators, semiconductor companies, test equipment vendors, telecom suppliers, traffic signal suppliers and road operators.  

Cellular modems will be key to the C-V2X deployment in vehicles to support telematics, eCall, connected infotainment and delivering useful driving/traffic/parking information. As C-V2X direct communication functionality is integrated into the cellular modem, C-V2X solutions are expected to be more cost-efficient and economical over competing technologies, and benefit from accelerated attach rates.  C-V2X direct communication field validations are currently underway in Germany, France, Korea, China, Japan and the U.S.

C-V2X currently stands as the only V2X technology based on globally recognized 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) specifications, with ongoing evolution designed to offer forward compatibility with 5G.  C-V2X also leverages and reuses the upper layer protocols defined by the automotive industry, including the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) organization. C-V2X includes two complementary transmission modes: 

  • Direct communication as shown in this demonstration for V2V and V2I use cases
  • V2N network communication, which leverages mobile operators for connectivity and delivers cloud-based services, including automated crash notification (ACN, as mandated by eCall), hazard warnings, weather conditions, green light optimal speed advisory (GLOSA), parking spot location, and remote tele-operation to support automated driving, to name a few.

“This demonstration builds on the successful C-V2X showcase we organised with our members Audi, Ford and Qualcomm in Washington DC in April, said Christoph Voigt, Chairman of 5GAA.

“We are excited to witness the growing momentum behind this life-saving technology and to see our members working together to deploy C-V2X, and to make it hit the road as soon as possible.”  

“The BMW Group introduced the first C-ITS use cases already in 2013 with the market introduction of the BMW i3. Today most of envisaged C-ITS use-cases are already institutionalized. With the implementation of C-V2X, the BMW Group accomplishes the last set of the puzzle with a practical path to C-ITS showing quick benefits,” said Christoph Grote, Senior Vice President Electronics, BMW Group. 

“With its ability to safely and securely connect vehicles, along with its evolution into 5G, C-V2X is integral to Ford’s vision for future transportation in which all cars and infrastructure talk to each other,” said Thomas Lukaszewicz, Manager Automated Driving, Ford of Europe. “We are very encouraged by preliminary test results in Europe and elsewhere which support our belief that C-V2X direct communications has superior V2X communication capabilities.”

“We’re moving forward with seamless communication between cars and their environment for enhancing road safety, as well as our customers’ safety,” said Carla Gohin, Group PSA’s Vice President for Research and Advanced Engineering. “Following the first European C-V2X direct communications demonstration we hosted with Qualcomm Technologies last March, we’re pleased to work with leading automotive and technology companies today to highlight that C-V2X interoperability is a reality.” 

“This demonstration of interoperability between multiple automakers is not only another milestone achieved towards C-V2X deployment, but also further validates the commercial viability and global compatibility of C-V2X direct communications for connected vehicles,” said Enrico Salvatori, senior vice president & president, Qualcomm Europe and MEA. “We look forward in continuing to work alongside leaders in the automotive industry, like the 5GAA, BMW Group, Ford, Groupe PSA and Savari, to help advance the automotive industry’s shift towards a safer, connected and more autonomous future.” 

“As one of the V2X pioneers, our company is extremely pleased to continue to help enable the next step in the V2X revolution that we helped start back in 2008,” said Ravi Puvvala, CEO of Savari. “For the last year and a half, the Savari team has worked diligently alongside the dedicated C-V2X engineers in the 5GAA partnership. The resulting string of increasingly impressive demonstrations is continuing to convince the world that C-V2X will soon be deployed around the world.”

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Cars

Fleet management in 360

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An on-board dual camera system from global fleet management vehicle recovery and insurance telematics provider, Cartrack, reduces the costs of managing vehicle fleets, while creating new ways to motivate drivers and improve their on-the-road performance.

Historically, commercial drivers within fleets have been far removed from active management and oversight, with limited tools available in helping fleet owners understand how their drivers actually behave on the road. This lack of visual tracking ability has seen fleet managers struggle to achieve meaningful driver skills development, while also leaving companies vulnerable to poor operational performance and financial losses resulting from accidents.

Cartrack’s Drive Vision system is dramatically changing this status quo.

Drive Vision is an on-board dual camera system that records video footage with a 120-degree exterior view of the road ahead, and a 160-degree view inside the vehicle cab. Not only can fleet managers actively monitor all the footage that they wish, the system also records specific events such as speeding, harsh braking or an unforeseen action from a third-party.

Drive Vision’s video is continuously captured and then made available to users in two ways. The footage is either buffered in the unit’s memory card for up to five days, and selected time slots can be downloaded by the user via a web interface. Alternatively, footage is also automatically downloaded to the system when specific events occur, such as speeding or a collision.  The captured footage is stored at a web address and is immediately accessible to the client at any time. In addition, the data centre’s driver exception reporting mechanism can review the footage against a client’s pre-determined driver behaviour stipulations, creating a balanced and flexible driver performance assessment tool.

Cartrack CEO, Andre Ittmann, notes why Drive Vision is so useful for companies.

“There are two key strategic benefits to the technology.  Firstly, the company has a clear visual record of events in the case of an accident or legal dispute. Achieving this kind of detailed view hasn’t been possible before, and it can dramatically reduce the costs around incidents and accidents, on an ongoing basis. Secondly, Drive Vision is a highly functional, event-based coaching system. It therefore allows fleet managers to develop a culture that rewards excellent or improved performance, while also giving them the power to actively close skills gaps. “

Ittmann also notes that fleet video footage allows the company to monitor and manage aspects of its service and market performance, including the driver’s ability to access a work site, thereby ensuring timeous arrivals at designated locations and the ability to oversee passenger count and conduct.

Ittmann concludes that Drive Vision offers untold long-term advantages for companies.

“Beyond simply gaining a more efficient means to discipline errant drivers, Drive Vision also empowers fleet managers to proactively implement measures that will result in long-term benefits for their company. Ultimately, the company can also reduce costs related to driver mismanagement while simultaneously improving a driver’s skills and their performance on the road.”

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