Continental Moves Toward the Future

By bringing a wide range of technologies to bear, Continental is advancing automated driving capabilities. And it is even putting it on the road in its own development vehicle.

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“Automated driving will provide an important contribution to making life easier for the driver, and to creating a more efficient overall traffic flow, with fewer critical situations or accidents”, says Dr. Elmar Degenhart, chairman of the executive board of Continental.

So the company, which consists of five divisions—Chassis & Safety, Interior, Powertrain, Tires, ContiTech—is devoting considerable resources to help develop the technologies that its OEM customers require in order to achieve various levels of automated driving. They’re producing everything from cameras to materials for interiors that lend themselves to being deployed in automated vehicles; from electronic air suspension systems to the software necessary to control automated vehicles.

In the Chassis & Safety Division alone—and know that this is the one where there are tremendous efforts underway therein to develop and mass produce the products necessary for automated driving (and automated parking: they’ve developed a valet parking system demonstrated with a vehicle that’s equipped with four short-range radar sensors, four surround-view cameras, a forward-facing mono camera, and a digital map that can park itself with or without communication from the parking structure itself; this is so capable that only 4 inches of space are required between the vehicle’s side-view mirrors and other objects)—there are some 43,000 people, not all of whom, of course, are pursuing this tech, but a non-trivial number who are.

What’s more, Nikolai Setzer,  a member of the executive board and who has the Tire Division under his purview, notes that in addition to developing tires for existing applications (e.g., WinterContact TS 860 S, winter tires for performance vehicles that offer short braking distances even in snowy conditions), they are undertaking the development of “concept” tires.

For example, there is “ContiSense,” a system that is based on electrically conductive rubber compounds. Sensors in the tire monitor conditions, both intrinsic to the tire (i.e., tread depth) and extrinsic (road temperature). It can detect whether there is a puncture. All of this information can be provided to the driver or to the controller of an automated vehicle. There is also “ContiAdapt,” which has a series of micro-compressors integrated into the wheel and a variable-width rim. The objective of this tire is to provide the precise contact patch necessary for the existing conditions: should there be slippery roads, then the tire is actually widened (by reducing air pressure) in order to provide a large tire patch; should the goal be low rolling resistance for optimal fuel efficiency, then there is an increase in tire pressure and a narrowing of the patch.

The point is: even when it comes to tires there is intelligence embedded in what Conti is doing to advance the capabilities of automated driving.

One of the interesting things that the company is doing in its developments is putting several of them—sensors, actuators, control units and communication and networking technology—together in a vehicle that it is running on company property in Frankfurt.                               

This is a robo-taxi. It is a small bus that doesn’t have a driver. It is called “CUbE,” for “Continental Urban mobility Experience.”

The CUbE presently includes Conti radar sensors and cameras. Further development will add the 3D flash LiDAR system that the company is developing to achieve a comprehensive image of a vehicle’s surroundings without mechanical movement (i.e., you’ve probably seen what appear to be spinning chicken buckets affixed to the tops of test vehicles; there will be no spin with these much more compact, circa 2020 devices from Conti).

The sensors provide information as to such things as what’s in the vehicle’s surroundings, whether it is other vehicles or pedestrians. The vehicle must also have awareness of things like traffic signals. But what is absolutely important is for the vehicle to “know” where it is in space. It can know what’s around it without necessarily knowing where it is. So the Continental Self-Driving Car project personnel are working on utilizing mapping information—including even an echo map, that is based on data collected from radar sensors—to make a determination of where the vehicle is in space at all times.

Another important aspect of CUbE is the ability to receive information from the infrastructure (say there is an accident ahead) and be able to communicate to not only exterior infrastructure, but also to pedestrians that it has detected.

(An interesting aspect of Conti’s development in this space of shared mobility is that it isn’t simply working on the hardware and the associated algorithms, but it has also made a minority investment in EasyMile SAS, a French technology firm that with its vehicle-building partner, Ligier Group, has been publically testing CUbE-like people movers in locales around the world, from downtown Dubai to Darwin, Australia.)

CUbE is the sort of transportation that’s meant for “the last mile.” That is, to get from a parking garage or train station or another place where you might arrive having come into a city from an outlying area, then taking something like this driverless shuttle for the final stage of the journey.

But there is another development that Conti has made toward this end. What they say is the “world’s first” 48-volt powered e-bike—yes, as in “bicycle”—motor with a fully integrated, continuously variable planetary transmission housed in a single drive unit.

One thing’s for certain: transportation tomorrow may resemble transportation of today, but there will be some fundamental changes, whether that takes the form of a bus without a driver or a bike with an electric motor.