BMW to Offer Level 3 “Hands-Off, Eyes-Off” Technology in 2024

Dec. 5, 2023
SAE Level 3 autonomous driving will soon be a new option for customers of BMW series 7 automobiles in Germany, enabling drivers to take their hands off the steering wheel and temporarily divert their attention away from the road.

What you''ll learn:

  • The definition of SAE Level 3 driving.
  • What is BMW's Personal Pilot L3?


These are challenging times for automakers. While advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) have become a central focus of automotive technology, widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles remains at least a decade away. But progress continues to be made.

For instance, highly automated Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Level 3 driving will soon be a new option for customers of BMW series 7 automobiles in Germany. Level 3 driving allows drivers to take their hands off the steering wheel and temporarily divert their attention away from the road. The vital difference between Level 2 and Level 3 is that with Level 2 (partially automated driving), the responsibility continues with the driver at all times.

It's not until you reach Level 5 where the car can drive without any human interaction. At Level 4, autonomous-vehicle systems are completely responsible for all driving and navigational tasks. Level 5 “full automation” is still in the early lab testing phase.

To date, the highest level of automation available in a production BMW is the Level 2 Highway Assistant features in its 5 series vehicles.

Designed to assume the entire task of driving with Level 3 capability as defined by the SAE, this highly automated driving function will be offered exclusively in Germany, priced at 6,000 Euros. BMW hasn’t yet indicated a timeline for its introduction in the United States. 

Partly Automated Driving

BMW calls this feature “Personal Pilot L3” technology, in which drivers will be able to take their eyes off the road and their hands off the steering wheel to answer emails or watch shows while traveling at up to 60 km/h (37 mph). This new option can be ordered for the BMW 7 Series (excluding the i7 eDrive50 and i7 M70 xDrive) in December to be fitted in vehicles from next March 2024.

Personal Pilot L3 takes over driving in certain situations and controls the car’s speed, distance to the vehicle ahead, and lane positioning. However, as per the SAE designation of Level 3 tech, the human driver must be ready to assume control if prompted—when, for example, the stretch of road suitable for using the feature comes to an end.

With this technology, drivers can redirect their focus to other in-vehicle activities when traveling on motorways with structurally separated carriage ways. They can also use digital services, e.g., streaming videos from various providers on the central display during a journey. This suits the new BMW Personal Pilot L3 to scenarios such as slow-moving traffic during daily motorway commutes.

Vehicles specified with the BMW Personal Pilot L3 are also fitted with ultrasonic sensors, radar sensors, and a 3D LiDAR sensor for monitoring the area around the vehicle as well as the situation on the road. Thanks to its sensors, this is the first system that can also be used in the dark, according to the automaker.

In Personal Pilot, live HD mapping is combined with GPS location finding, plus the aforementioned sensors, to ensure exact positioning, too.

The BMW Highway Assistant already offers an SAE Level 2 partially automated driving function in all new BMW 5 Series models.  According to the company, the introduction of Level 3 functionality in BMW 7 Series models will make it the first carmaker to offer both an advanced Level 2 and Level 3 driving function in its product portfolio, where the hands can be taken off the steering wheel and positioned comfortably.

Visual and Acoustic Signals

Symbols appear on the display behind the steering wheel as appropriate to indicate whether the BMW Personal Pilot L3 is available. It’s activated and deactivated by a button on the steering wheel. When the function is being used, the customer still must be ready to reassume the task of driving at any time as the situation warrants. Visual and acoustic signals let the driver know they have to take over control once more. If the driver doesn’t respond as required, the vehicle is brought to a controlled standstill.

As with all conditional automation systems, the car will be able to drive autonomously over long distances in certain traffic situations, such as on motorways. The driver, though, must be able to take over control within a few seconds, such as at road construction sites. To assist in this effort, the 7 Series also has a new software stack, a powerful computing platform, and a 5G link to the cloud.

BMW’s rival, Mercedes Benz, has a Level 3 system called Drive Pilot that’s been available on selected models in Germany since 2022, and is now approved for customers to use in Nevada and California in the U.S. The coverage area is still limited to certain roads and freeways in the two states.


To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Electronic Design, create an account today!