Ultimate self-driving machine? BMW plans autonomous car for 2021.

German automaker BMW plans to mass produce autonomous vehicles by 2021.

Benoit Tessier/Reuters
A self-driving car by Google is displayed at the Viva Technology event in Paris, France, June 30.

Self-driving cars are positioned to be the next big thing, and everyone wants in.

Technology companies like Google and Apple have largely been leading the charge, but more traditional automakers don't want to be left in the dust. And German automaker BMW is no different. The car company threw its hat into the ring Friday, saying it has plans to collaborate with Intel Corp. and Israeli software company Mobileye N.V. to have autonomous cars on the market by 2021.

BMW made this announcement the day after news broke of the first fatality in a vehicle operating on autopilot

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating the wreck, which happened when a Tesla Model S sedan in self-driving mode failed to automatically activate its brakes to avoid crashing into a tractor-trailer truck. The car's cameras didn't distinguish between the white side of the turning truck and the bright sky.

BMW Chief Executive Harald Krüger said that accident shows "the technologies are not ready for serious production" of autonomous vehicles just yet, according to El Paso Inc. He insisted that "security is a priority" at an event in Munich Friday.

Mobileye’s chairman and co-founder, Amnon Shashua said that although the technology is close, it's not yet ready to be wholly relied upon.

"I think it is very important, especially given this accident and what we hear in the news, that companies are very transparent about the limitations of the system," he said. "It’s not enough to tell the driver you have to be alert. You need to tell the driver why you need to be alert." 

Mobileye supplies cameras and other sensors for self-driving.

BMW already has prototypes of self-driving cars, along with a battery-powered car called the i3.

BMW's plans for its all-digital "iNext" model suggests that it's full-steam ahead for autonomous cars.

Friday's announcement is about traditional automakers wresting control back from tech-giants like Tesla, Google and Apple, suggests The Wall Street Journal's Stephen Wilmot. 

The race is on. 

Audi and Nissan are among the automakers that have revealed prototypes, with many others close behind. 

Tesla already released its self-driving feature, misleadingly called "Autopilot," that makes the car semi-autonomous. That's the feature the 40-year-old man involved in the fatal crash relied on. 

But Google is moving a little slower, responding to early tests of how humans behave in self-driving cars. The tech company found that drivers trusted the car too quickly, turning their attention away from the wheel and the road while moving at full-speed despite being warned not to.

Apple is maintaining an air of mystery around its iCar. The project has even received a codename, "Titan," according to The Wall Street Journal.

In February 2015, an Apple employee told Business Insider that the company is working on something that will "give Tesla a run for its money."

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