BMW inaugurates new automated driving test site in Czechia

BMW has launched a new test site for highly automated driving up to level 4 and self-parking in Sokolov, in the former mining region of Karlovarský in Czechia. The ‘Future Mobility Development Center’ (FMDC) was built on 600 hectares of a former surface mine site with 2.2 million cubic meters of recycled soil previously excavated.

The carmaker says it enables them to test all possible driving conditions ‘with maximum flexibility and tremendous efficiency’: city, countryside, freeway, and automated parking. And they can run these tests continuously without stopping.

BMW has already invested €300 million in it and will employ some 100 to 250 people at the test track, most of them contracted partners. The FMDC in Sokolov complements BMW’s existing test sites in Aschheim near Munich, Miramas in France, and Arjeplog in Sweden.

Part of the Sokolov test track has been ready for operations since the summer of 2022. The rest – a total of 90 000 square meters with three separate inlet lanes – was finished lately to test with cross-traffic behavior. A six-kilometer-long ‘Autonomous Driving Highway’ enables testing new advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) up to future autonomous Level 4 driving.

Level 2 to Level 4

A level-4 car is considered ‘highly autonomous’, capable of driving in environments that can be rather complex, like urban traffic, without a driver always being attentive. The ‘driver’ can work, sleep, or read while the car is driving, but he can take over if he wishes or when the vehicle asks him to.

Offered in the iX, the new 5-Series, and the 7-Series, BMW’s Autobahn Assistant – a partially automated system of Level 2 offering automatic lane changes –  is the first system of its kind to receive approval for usage at speeds of up to 130 km/h on highways in Germany. But the driver has to keep his hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

By mid-2025, BMW plans to offer Level 3 capabilities commercially, stepping up to Level 4 capabilities after that. Level 3 allows one to drive hands-free without constantly watching the road in restricted, well-defined conditions, with the driver ready to intervene at all times.

Mercedes was the first to be allowed to use its Level 3 Drive Pilot on German highways under strict conditions of up to 60 km/h. The same applies on US highways (up to 40 mph), as granted in January 2023 in Nevada as the first state.

Fully functional city

With building started already in 2014, Sokolov will eventually feature 100 kilometers of test road, six test tracks, bridges, and tunnels, and a fully functional but unoccupied city. That will include well-built ‘bad roads’ built to mimic a poorly maintained street.

A four km stretch of highway with signs from all over the world ensures all types of cars can read them anytime. Next to the test tracks, nearly 11 000 square meters of office buildings and workshops are planned. That sometimes required radical measures to stabilize the excavated soil it was built on, like 1 200 pillars, each 10 meters deep, to stabilize a 150 m building, for instance.







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