“Zero accidents, zero emissions and zero stress thanks to smart connectivity and convenience: this is what our pioneering technologies are helping to realize”, said Continental CEO Elmar Degenhart outlining the company’s strategy. But that’s what it sounds like wherever the automotive industry talks about the future. We took a closer look.
Green, according to today’s definition that means primarily electric, of course. Continental presented an electric axle drive; for the company this is already the third generation of such drivetrains. The motor, together with the power electronics and a reduction gear, is integrated in a single compact housing. The liquid-cooled engine is available in two power ratings, 120 kW and 150 kW. Nevertheless, the motor weighs less than 80 kg.
According to the company, the engine has been tested and is ready for series production. With these specifications, Continental is aiming right into the heart of the future market for electric cars: affordable cars suitable for everyday use for everyone. It is said that this engine will be seen in a small European car and a compact SUV from Asia before the end of the year. This drive also drives the Sion model of the German EV startup Sono Motors, the first vehicle to be paved over and over with solar cells – the solar cells are intended to partially charge the battery when stationary and make their contribution to increasing the range.
One class lower is the new 48 V drive, which eeNews Europe had already reported on in advance. At the TechShow this inexpensive drive could be tested, integrated into a Ford Focus. With a weight of 1.7 tons, this vehicle may be a little too heavy for such a drive, but the small engine proved that it can still keep up bravely in city traffic.
Another building block of future mobility is automated driving. In this sector, Continental is developing an autonomous shuttle bus that serves as a test vehicle for a comprehensive environment sensor system and the associated computers as well as brakes and steering. The sensors of this vehicle, called CUbE, can generate a 360-degree image of its environment by combining data from different sensor technologies. The radar which was specially developed for driverless vehicles and made ready for series production, records the surroundings of the vehicle within a radius of up to 200 metres. In addition to laser sensors and cameras, the vehicle is equipped with a total of seven radar sensors (see image 1) In this way, the location can be determined precisely and at the same time obstacles and potentially critical situations can be detected at an early stage. The MK C1 HAD hydraulic braking system, also developed for highly automated driving, has been made fail-safe by redundant design.
Continental wants to advance the technology for driverless cars in a global network with a total of five competence centers in Germany, Japan, Singapore, China and the USA. Research and development is carried out at the various locations with different focal points, but always with the help of the CUbE platform.
In the area of the connected car, Continental is currently working on dynamizing its existing e-horizon road database with the help of sensor data from moving cars. With this system of coordinated sensors, data processing and assistance systems, called PreViewESC, it would be possible, for example, to warn vehicles practically in real time of road sections that are dangerous to drive on due to weather-related events. “The dynamic eHorizon can be imagined as an additional virtual sensor that networks data from various sources, intelligently evaluates it and distributes it to other vehicles. In this way, we raise driving safety to a new level under all conditions,” says Anton Klöster, Product Manager eHorizon at Continental.
How does this work? The wheel sensors constantly measure the slippage of the tires (which they do anyway for driving dynamics control). If anomalies occur, such as when driving on ice, snow or wet roads, these measured values together with the corresponding position data can be anonymously fed into a database in the cloud and immediately transmitted to the following vehicles so that the driver or the automatic driving system can take appropriate action.
Other sensors such as cameras could also be included to identify snowy or frozen roads. Continental’s engineers also use artificial intelligence in the cloud to create models that recognize road objects and predict the emergence of dangerous situations. These models can react to changing conditions and use input and output data to adapt functions through learning tasks. In addition, neural networks are used for image processing and object recognition. A Continental speaker assured that the system already works technically to the greatest possible extent. However, the business model for using the data is not entirely clear.
A further development that serves safety in the autonomy levels 3 and 4 is the combined environment and interior camera. It not only monitors the space in front of the vehicle, but also detects whether the driver is ready to take the wheel if necessary by means of an infrared camera pointing inwards. Transferring responsibility from the vehicle computer to the driver in the event of an emergency is still one of the most difficult situations. Safe transfer can only take place if the information from the environment is coordinated with that from the interior.
The camera data, which is permanently evaluated by the associated software, shows, for example, whether the driver is attentive or distracted, whether he has turned to the children in the rear seats or his smartphone, whether he has his hands on the steering wheel or behind his head. “With the new camera system, the vehicle and driver are informed about each other at all times. Ultimately, this is about trust. People can rely on the technology not to suddenly and unprepared give them back their responsibility, but to do so according to clear and comprehensible criteria,” says Georg Binder, Head of Strategy & Planning, Driver Assistance Systems Business Unit at Continental.
However, the data from the interior camera can not only be evaluated for a safe transfer of the driving function. Using the “Occupant Safety Monitor” software function, they can also be used to optimally adapt passive safety systems such as seat belts or airbags to the respective situation. For example, the deployment of the airbags can then be specifically adapted to the determined interior situation, thus optimising their protective effect.
Technically, the camera is a multifunction camera with a second imager and infrared LED for the lighting. Features of this latest generation of Continental’s front cameras are a high image resolution ranging from 1 to 8 megapixels, excellent night vision properties and an aperture angle of up to 125 degrees to detect crossing objects in traffic. In addition to the classic computer vision processes, neural networks are used that run on the built-in processor.
Continental also continues to do a large part of its business with tires. It therefore makes sense that the company is also concerned about the design of the tires and wheels. In the ContiAdopt concept study, the engineers are developing a wheel that will allow the contact area to be adapted to changed road conditions while the vehicle is in motion. It is based on an intelligent rim with dynamically variable width: with a large footprint, such a tire offers good grip on dry roads; for optimum handling on wet surfaces, the footprint can be reduced to reduce the width of the tire.
The “intelligent wheel” contains communication devices and actuators in the rim, which also accommodates the required battery. Future tires will also be equipped with sensors to detect the penetration of a foreign object or abrasion, for example, and to report this to the driver, or in the case of fully autonomous vehicles to the operator’s service center.