Using an optical camera is less expensive and complex than an infrared camera system, such as Super Cruise uses, but the move is not without compromise.
"One of the advantages of an IR camera is the ability to detect the eyes, even through polarized sunglasses," Abuelsamid said.
Applying semi-autonomous driving systems to lower speed, in-traffic situations addresses a growing safety problem as commutes lengthen and traffic congestion worsens. The technology "reduces the cognitive workload on the driver in those urban stop-and-go situations," Abuelsamid said.
BMW's approach to self-driving systems is not about taking away the driving experience, but augmenting it with technology, X5 product manager Michael Baxley told Automotive News.
Stop-and-go traffic "is one of the most annoying parts of the drive," Baxley said. "Traffic takes away from the driving experience."
The 2019 X5, which will arrive at U.S. dealerships in November, uses a suite of ultrasonic sensors, cameras and radar to drive semi-autonomously under certain conditions.
BMW's driver-facing, camera-assisted Extended Traffic Jam Assistant system, part of a $1,700 package, will be available in December. The technology will gradually roll out across BMW's lineup.
Meanwhile, the automaker is looking ahead. BMW is working on the next generation of autonomous driving systems with a consortium that includes Mobileye, Intel and Magna International.
The iNEXT, to be built beginning in 2021 in Germany, will launch with Level 3 autonomous driving technology, meaning drivers must supervise the system and be ready to take back control. It eventually will incorporate Level 4 technology that allows the vehicle to drive without human intervention in certain conditions.