BMW 330i Track Trainer at Laguna Seca – Click above for high-res image gallery

You know what's scary? Autonomous cars. What's scarier? An autonomous car that can lap Laguna Seca at eight-tenths and post sub-two minute lap times all day long. BMW's 330i Track Trainer can do just that. And we have the video to prove it.

You might remember the Track Trainer from a late-2007 episode of Top Gear, where Jeremy Clarkson sat idly by as the specially prepared Bimmer ran around the Test Track, squealing tires and befuddling an uncharacteristically speechless Jezza.

Fresh from a recent trip around the Nürburgring, BMW boxed up its rolling autonomous test lab and shipped it off to California for its first North American appearance.

While the 330i is a standard production model, the software running the show is anything but. Utilizing a combination of built-in GPS, a signal booster and accompanying repeater (increasing bandwidth and accuracy down to the centimeter), a custom map of the track and a trained driver to show it the optimum racing line, the Track Trainer learns the course and can show budding racers how to do it right. Over and over and over again.

In development since 2006, BMW began to show off this tech to the board and the press, finally bringing it to the Nordschleife in 2009 packing a new camera system that measured the exact width of the track and inputted the data into a reconfigured autonomous driving program. The result was a nine-minute lap and a scary ride (one exec told us "we won't do that again") for its two hapless passengers.



The underlying program uses a complex algorithm to determine theoretical grip, while wheel speed and spin sensors send data to the computers to interpret the exact amount of suspension load, power delivery and braking force necessary to keep it out of the weeds. A driver feedback display mounted on the center console shows drivers how close the car is to the optimal line while in control, but when Hal takes over, instructors or engineers can dial the speed up or down to suit conditions.




When we arrived at Laguna Seca for a few hot laps, a late-afternoon rain had coated the course. The system was able to detect the low grip situation and react accordingly. How'd it fair? Average lap times with the system set between 85- and 95-percent ran in the low two-minute range, but engineers we spoke to say they saw consistent one-minute, fifty-five second laps during the configuration process.



What's next? The engineers ruled out another run around the 'Ring, but they're actively pursuing a system that can record all the bumps, ruts and surface imperfections around a track to make the Track Trainer even more accurate.

Check out our two laps around Laguna Seca in the video above, along with an abbreviated Nürburgring video and a quick explanation of the Track Trainer's tech below.




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  • 75 Comments
      johnnyichiban
      • 3 Years Ago
      "Knight Rider. A shadowy flight into the world of a man who does not exist..."
      pinyatapbjtime
      • 3 Years Ago
      perfect, they can keep the 'Ring taxi running.
      cmax383666
      • 3 Years Ago
      Why is this important ?where is the averge person going to be able to enjoy this thrill.I guess if you have that kind of money to throw away then you might be able to enjoy.Why cannot the american motor companys come up with this sort of thing ,really do care what BMW does.If they had said(and verified)that it ran on air or pollutants it would be something.The computer does it ,but again where is the income level to enjoy that type of ability.
      foci
      • 3 Years Ago
      Amazing a scary at the same time. This tech can be used for so much from racing to safely driving the average joe around. I love to drive, really drive no sims or games. I do not think I will ever want to give up the sensation or focus that comes with driving smooth, quick and fast. However I do need to say congrats to all involved on this project.
      Evan Hayden
      • 3 Years Ago
      That must have been a really surreal car ride.
      bluebeamerm3
      • 3 Years Ago
      Thats boring!
      JohnY
      • 3 Years Ago
      "Stig, you are sacked! You are soo sacked!!"
      Shane
      • 3 Years Ago
      I need one of these to get me home from the bar
      • 3 Years Ago
      [blocked]
      Peter Walke
      • 3 Years Ago
      How can we take this seriously as "cutting-edge technology" when they are using compact flash?
      jackranzini
      • 3 Years Ago
      Maybe he's driving with his schlong?
      frothe3
      • 3 Years Ago
      Sheer junk. Better off with an American make. And Japanese are no better than European car manufacturers,especially Toyota/Lexus. Nissan/Infiniti are far superior.
        mtechnik
        • 3 Years Ago
        @frothe3
        Really....I've owned 3 E90 BMW's and they are far superior to any American made car in the same class. Why don't you drive a BMW 3-Series and then make statement like that.
        visconti24
        • 3 Years Ago
        @frothe3
        BMW is sheer junk and one is "Better off with an American make"? Oh, dream on, deluded thing! Dream on.
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