BMW’s self-driving car will aim for full Level 5 autonomy by 2021

BMW says that the car it intends to field with self-driving tech by 2021 will have Level 3, Level 4 and Level 5 capabilities, according to the automaker’s SVP of Autonomous Driving Elmar Frickenstein, who shared the info during a panel in Berlin on Thursday, Reuters reports. Level 5 autonomy would mean that the vehicle requires zero input from a driver to navigate city and highway roads, at least on par in terms of performance with a human driver.

Level 3 and 4 are considered much more achievable in the near-term: Level 3 cars still require drivers, but their intervention is only required in certain situations and they aren’t obliged to be watching things constantly and ready to take control immediately as with lower levels. Level 4 is the first level of “full autonomy,” which means it can handle a whole trip – just not in all possible conditions and environments.

Most automakers talking about autonomous vehicle deployment plans in the next few years are discussing Level 3 and 4 vehicles – Ford’s goal of putting a fleet of self-driving cars into service in 2021 specifically involves Level 4 autonomy, for instance. BMW’s decision to leapfrog to the most advanced level is ambitious, but it’s working with Intel and that chipmaker’s newly acquired self-driving hardware and systems subsidiary Mobileye on its autonomous tech, so it’s definitely not starting from a dead stop.