- Published in Vehicle Development.
When BMW launched the original 1 Series in 2004, it introduced the only rear-wheel drive vehicle into the C-segment – consumers were sold on the driving dynamics more than anything else.
The firm has sold more than a million units since then, so the formula worked, but the focus for its replacement is a little different. BMW’s own research discovered that 80% of its customers did not know that the engine’s torque was sent to the two rear wheels. The F20 – the second-generation 1 Series – retains the same driveline architecture, and has more powerful engines and transmissions with more speeds. Electronically controlled dampers and variable-ratio front steering are available too.
So the driving dynamics are better than before, and the vehicle is also smoother, quieter and more efficient too. But, for many consumers, interaction with the vehicle means more than how much feedback they get from the steering, or being able to adjust the cornering line with just the throttle.
Which is why the 1 Series has apps enabling iPhone users to use Facebook and Twitter, and connect to web radio stations through the car’s audio system. Or you can just have the internet integrated into the vehicle.
The latest feature that BMW has developed is realtime traffic information. It’s launched in this 1 Series but will be rolled-out across the carmaker’s complete range. Knowing what’s going on around you will get you to your destination more quickly than the more powerful engines can.
“A large proportion of new functionality comes from software, and in this area a lot of it is in infotainment,” says Kai-Uwe Balszuweit, head of infotainment and advanced driver-assistance systems for the 1 Series. “Going from A to B at the right time with the right knowledge of what’s happening on the roads is good functionality for our customers.”
Existing traffic information services operate through the radio as a broadcast system. Information can be inaccurate or out-of-date by the time you hear it. BMW’s system uses different sources for the traffic information, such as data from GPS-equipped truck fleets. You can buy this data, as BMW is doing. It also uses mobile phone data since the location of each phone can be tracked as it connects from cell to cell in the network. The movement of the phones can be interpreted into traffic flow information.
“If you remember where each phone was connected, and you know the station it connected to next, and you know where the roads are, you can estimate where each one is going,” says Balszuweit. “But you need intelligent algorithms to match the movement of the cellphones to the streets. Then you need to delete cellphones which are pedestrians or cyclists or those which go offroad. The rest might then be cars or buses, which gives you flow information.”
Co-operation with local authorities also helps to build a picture of what’s happening on the roads: some cities are sharing data from inductive loops in the roads, and BMW also uses data from taxi fleets. The system also uses internet-equipped BMWs as sensors. These are the best, if not the most numerous, since the system knows for sure that these are vehicles; the algorithms don’t have to work this out.