Next year's BMW 7-Series will be the world's first production car which can park itself without the driver even being aboard.
BMW's i3 electric car already packs self-parking features – as do vehicles from Volvo and Audi – but the new 7-Series will be the first to let you park the car while not being in it. Simply park near the space or your garage, step outside and press a button on the car's key fob. It will then use an array of sensors dotted around the car's body to park itself in the tightest of spaces.
The feature is useful for owners who have a very narrow garage, saving them from knocking the door on the wall, and the discomfort of squeezing out of a half-opened door. When returning to the car, press the button again and it will reverse itself back out of the space.
The technology isn't new – Ford is developing a similar self-parking system – but BMW claims its will be the first to appear on the road. Under current laws, most countries forbid cars from driving autonomously when no one is in them.
While this law will likely remain in place when the car goes on sale in 2016, owners could still use the feature when parking in a garage on their own land, away from pedestrians and other traffic. For parallel parking the car needs a driver to be aboard in the event of an emergency, but can still complete the manoeuvre without their intervention. The self-parking system can take full control of the steering, gear changes, accelerator and brakes.
When on the open road, the new 6-Series can drive itself along motorways. Switch on the cruise control and the car will maintain a safe gap from the vehicle in front, slowing or speeding up as required, and will even steer to keep itself in the correct lane; however, the driver must keep their hands on the wheel, or the system will disengage after 10 seconds.
Finally, an upgraded sat-nav and entertainment system now lets the driver interact through using hand gestures. Waving at the screen is all that's required to accept or reject a phone call, for example. Gestures can also be used to adjust the volume of the radio.
BMW says the new 7-Series will arrive at some point in 2016, and although prices are yet to be announced, the current model starts at £61,000 ($91,000) and runs up to over £104,000.