BMW plans to take on Mercedes by releasing a fully driverless car by 2021

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BMW made a big move to rival Mercedes in the self-driving-car space on Thursday.

BMW said it will release a Level 5 self-driving car in 2021, Elmar Frickenstein, BMW's senior vice president for autonomous driving, said during a panel discussion in Berlin, according to Reuters. Level 5 autonomy means the car can handle driving entirely on its own in any geographic location.

The German automaker said it will also release a Level 3 self-driving car in 2021, which means the car can handle most driving tasks but still requires a driver to intervene at times.

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The move puts BMW in closer competition with Mercedes, another luxury carmaker that plans to start selling self-driving cars in 2020.

BMW and Mercedes are collaborating in the space in some ways by sharing data. BMW, Mercedes, and Audi acquired digital map maker HERE in 2015 to create high-definition maps to advance their self-driving technology.

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But BMW is clearly looking to become a leader in the self-driving-car space by chasing Level 5 autonomy at a time where most automakers are committing to Level 4, meaning the car is fully self-driving but only in specific geographic regions.

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Waymo, the self-driving-car company spun out of Google, was initially pursuing fully driverless cars, but recently said it will keep driver controls in its future Level 4 vehicles. However, Tesla is planning to demonstrate Level 5 autonomy by having a vehicle drive itself across the country before the end of this year.

BMW has said it will leverage its partnership with Intel and Mobileye to release a self-driving car in 2021, but had not committed to Level 5 autonomy. Intel acquired Mobileye in a deal worth $15.3 billion on Monday.

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