BMW reveals its visionary self-drive car of the future

Smart self-driving technology has been creeping into new cars in recent years, with driver assistance functions.

But now top automakers like BMW are getting bolder with their ambitions, and their next generation designs.

BMW's new all-electric, semi-autonomous car the Vision iNext made its own entrance at a glitzy launch in LA (no driver required in the front seat).

The company's eye-catching vehicle is part of a new wave, aimed at bridging the gap between traditional motoring and the kind of self-driving future we see in the movies.

The Vision iNext is a smart vehicle, with a wide range of connectivity functions.  And while it's semi-autonomous, the car does require a "pilot" in the front seat.

BMW believes next-generation vehicles still need to offer the "joy of driving".

In the iNext's standard "boost" mode, the driver remains in control.  But hit the highway, and you can choose to hand over to the car's computer via "ease" mode.

That sees the steering wheel and pedals retract, allowing the SUV to steer, brake, and accelerate all on its own. 

Pieter Nota, BMW's head of Sales & Brand says that will free up the driver to do other things.

"You can look at your emails for example. But if you then on a Saturday morning really want to have a great drive through the countryside, you can switch to active drive mode."

Designers have created a relaxing, spacious interior,  with no door pillars, and a separation between the cockpit and the rear lounge.

It's styled as a furnished living room on wheels, featuring interactive upholstery where touch gestures control applications like the stereo.

"You can take different seating positions", says BMW's Senior VP of Design Adrian van Hooydonk.

"The whole design is inspired more from architecture and boutique hotels than from the world of car design."

The sleek exterior of the iNext will hide an array of sensors, radars, lidars, microphones, and cameras to help detect objects and the surroundings.

Many consumers are still wary of self-driving technology, but automakers say it'll mean safer roads and a faster commute.

"We will have less accidents at the end", says Klaus Buettner, VP of Autonomous Driving Projects at BMW.

"We can control the driving behaviour better which means less pollution."

But one big challenge for self-driving vehicles is getting international regulations to catch up with technology.  

It's expected the iNext will only be able to be used in self-driving mode on highways when it's first launched, with use in urban areas restricted to test fleets.

"So the car is capable of driving end to end on the highways, determining which lanes, overtaking, and so on. And this will be available for the end customer."

BMW does have time on its side while it continues testing and training its autonomous driving systems.  The iNext won't go into commercial production until 2021.