BMW Gets One Step Closer to Auto-pilot

When a driver is suddenly incapacitated–by a heart attack, for example–a new system brings the car to a safe stop at the side of the road.

Cockpit of the 2006 BMW 330i (with iDrive)

Cars are geting closer and closer to driving themselves: Mercedes has a system that keeps cars from skidding out of control; Lexus has another that parallel parks for you. Now, as Popular Science reports, BMW is developing another technology, which would automatically drive the car to safety if the driver ever becomes incapacitated by a medical problem, or falls suddenly unconscious.


The Emergency Stop Assistant doesn’t keep the car plowing happily down the highway. Instead, when its onboard telematics detect that the driver is suddenly disabled, the system maneuvers the car to the side of the road–while taking other cars into account. Once safely stopped, it then notifies emergency personnel about the situation, and feeds them data about the passenger’s condition. Pretty trippy stuff, right? Partly, yes. But the system leans heavily on already existing technology, such as automated lane departure warnings and active cruise control, which senses vehicles and obstacles, and applies the brakes as needed.

BMW hasn’t said when the system might become available, but it’s potentially a huge boon to epileptics, those with heart disease, and the elderly–all of whom frequently stay off the road for fear of accidents. The system is part of “SmartSenior: Intelligent Services for Senior Citizens,” a research program funded by the German government and aimed and giving the elderly greater independence. 

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[Via Popular Science; photo by jeffwilcox]

About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.