Thirty five km northeast of Hanover, Germany, lies the most modern testing facility of Continental AG. Contidrom, as the proving ground is called, was the venue for the company’s biennial technology demonstration event, TechShow 2013. And if demonstrations at the show are anything to go by, we are headed for a future that could well ensure a clean, green and accident-free world, thanks to automated vehicles that are connected to the environment and talk to each other, emits negligible carbon dioxide, and are ultra-safe. Auto Tech Review brings you this report from ground zero.
A FUTURE THAT IS DIFFERENT
Ever wondered what would it be like to be driven to office by your vehicle, all by itself? A vehicle that is so well-connected that it informs you about a diversion or a traffic pile-up well ahead on your driving route? Continental AG, among the leading automotive suppliers globally, is banking big on five strategic areas of technology that promises to change how people drive vehicles in the future.
Automotive driving, for instance, is one of the central themes of Continental’s technology strategy. Over the following few sections, we take a deep dive into what lies in store in the areas of electrification, networking, ultra-high-performance tyres and engineering green value, apart from automated driving.
1 2 3
1) Helmut Matschi, Member of the Executive Board, Interior Division, Continental
2) José A Avila, Member of the Executive Board, Powertrain Division, Continental
3) Dr Ralf Cramer, Member of the Executive Board, Chassis & Safety Division, Continental
i) Automated Driving
Automated driving is one of the central themes of international automotive supplier Continental’s long-term technology strategy. Presently, automated driving is in its infancy, with technologies offering only assistance to drivers. While a transition to partially automated driving is on its way, fully automated vehicles could see the light of day by 2025, officials believe. In 2013 alone, Continental is investing over € 100 mn in R&D on automated driving.
A host of factors should by then be in place, including the most critical ones of a valid legal framework and affordable technological solutions. Driver assistance systems, the foundation on which the concept of automated driving is based, are still evolving but have found considerable acceptance in matured markets. By 2016, it is hoped that partially automated systems would assist drivers in stop & go traffic, at speeds of not more than 30 km/h. In another four years, speeds could go beyond 30 km/h and drivers may have the liberty to even access the internet. Till about this time, the drivers would still need to be in control of the vehicle at all times.
Come 2025 and this could change. Limited to freeways, fully automated vehicles could support speeds of up to 130 km/h, but the driver would need to intervene should he wish to exit the freeway. Helmut Matschi, Member of the Executive Board, Interior Division, Continental said, “You wouldn’t need to monitor consistently because you would be alerted right in time.” Even then, if the driver fails to respond to a demand to take control, the vehicle will brake and stop by itself.
For the time being though, these technologies would still be restricted to matured markets. India is still one of the toughest markets for automated driving technologies, said Dr Ralf Cramer Member of the Executive Board, Chassis & Safety Division, Continental. “India is a price sensitive market, and these technologies are still a long way away,” he said.
From the powertrain perspective, Continental continues to emphasise on improving fuel economy and CO2 reduction, through consistent improvements on both diesel and petrol engines. José A Avila, Member of the Executive Board, Powertrain Division, Continental believes internal combustion engines will remain the mainstay till 2025-2030, but electrification is gaining strong grounds. By 2020, the company expects fully electric vehicles to have 2-3 % penetration in the European Union.
Electrifying the powertrain can make the engine more efficient as against optimising its combustion process. A case in point is the 12 V stop-start system. Moving up the ladder (higher voltages) would obviously mean even better efficiency. The market penetration of such solutions has, nonetheless, remained below par. There exists a gap, admitted Avila, between the relatively low-cost 12 V stop-start systems and the expensive hybrid solutions with high voltages typically of between 200 V and 400 V.
On demonstration at the TechShow was Continental’s 48 V Eco Drive vehicle as a new entry level hybridisation option, which further enhances fuel consumption and reduces C02 to a level previously possible only by more expensive mild hybrids at around 120 V. The optimised system in the vehicle features a belt-driven 48 V starter generator that replaces a conventional generator, a belt tensioner with belts, a 48 V lithium-ion battery from SK Continental E-motion, and a DC/DC converter that provides the link to the 12 V electrical system.
“We’re now creating a range of technology modules that allows OEMs to hybridise existing vehicles in grades from 12 V to 400 V, with a transparent cost-benefit ratio,” Avila added.
Replying to a question from this publication, Avila admitted hybridisation will reach a much larger level than full electric in years to come. However, he said it is hard to predict beyond 2025 because demands and solutions will depend on the sources and availability of energy, and even government policies. Markets like Shanghai and Beijing are already incentivising full electric vehicles. “The technology is available. It could well be that the electric powertrain takes over when the IC engine cuts off when you drive downtown and the IC engine kicks in as you exit downtown,” he said adding beyond 2025, it will depend on “our willingness to work on solutions to counter global warming”.
A lot of future developments would revolve around the concept of a connected car. Last year, the total sum of electronics products that Continental delivered to its customers globally stood at 328 mn units, including 29 mn body controllers and 21 mn access control units. “This shows our involvement in information management,” claims Matschi with pride.
A fully connected vehicle, for instance, would play a key role in the goal of automated driving. In fact, CO2 reduction, navigation, information, music or even the trigger to switch between electric energy and combustion energy would depend on information management. Today, a networked vehicle increases safety & comfort, and is reducing power consumption. Drive control units communicate with safety functions and body electronics via data buses. A rain sensor, for example, not only activates the wipers, but ensures that the electronic brake system adjusts to the wet conditions.
The smartphones we use today are increasingly going to become an integral part of the vehicle functioning. Music streaming, phone communication and navigation are some of the commonly thought solutions, but they could also become the vehicle key or be used for personalising seat positions.
While a lot of focus surrounds around the development of human-machine interfaces (HMI), most of it is aligned towards safety. Curved touch screens, touch pads with character recognition and haptic feedback or 3D screens are being developed to reduce driver distraction. The ‘Driver focus concept vehicle’ is an interesting concept. An infrared camera in the cockpit records the driver’s state of attention, and the driver assistance systems detect a potentially hazardous situation. The information is then transmitted to an HMI that uses a 360° LED light strip inside the vehicle to direct the driver’s attention directly to the hazardous situation.
Matschi said Continental sees a lot of potential in enhancing an instrument cluster with a tiny colour TFT (Thin-Film Transistor) display in India. “We can integrate multimedia functionality like navigation or mirroring some information from mobile phones onto this instrument cluster. This is a value product, and should suit Indian needs.”
iv) UHP Tyres
An exciting part of TechShow was the experience of driving on the Contidrom track to test the new range of ultra high-performance tyres – ContiSportContact 5 P for high-end sports cars; ContiSportContact 5 for high-powered sedans and tautly-tuned cars and the ContiForceContact, specially designed for race driver training and perfection training.
Also on display was a new class of tyres for EVs – Conti.eWinterContact that improves the rolling resistance. The 15 % bigger outer diameter of the tyres, marked at 195/55 R20 as against the earlier 205/55 R16 ensures better wet grip and noise. This range of tyres have been rated the best rolling resistance class in EU label.
v) Engineering Green Value
The most common buzzword in the global automotive industry is about going ‘green’. Every OEM faces the challenge of building products that consume less fuel or energy, emit less carbon dioxide and even use eco-friendly manufacturing techniques to build powerful and comfortable vehicles. Continental has been investing heavily in building green capabilities through innovative engineering and technology, and using lighter, environmentally-friendly materials.
A comprehensive package of components, modules, and systems based on the engineering green value concept was at display at TechShow 2013. The company has been building its green credentials based on three central aspects of conserving resources, protecting the climate, and increasing efficiency. The products thereof improve the vehicle’s life cycle assessment and enhance driving comfort. A holistic approach is taken to further integrate and optimise electrical and mechanical functions, including batteries, power electronics and the electric motor.
The use of lighter materials, like polyamide for ultra heavy-duty motor mounts and structural components, are increasingly being used. Compared to conventional aluminium engine mounts, polyamide components shave 50 % off the weight. A similar amount of weight could also be reduced by using TPO (olefin-based thermoplastic elastomers) for instrument panels or interior foils for door trims.
New innovations are also being made in the areas of seat material, where renewable raw materials are being experimented with. Aluminium is replacing steel, and gradually plastic is finding favour over aluminium.
The capabilities Continental demonstrated during the TechShow 2013 are clearly targeted at advanced markets like Europe, North America, Japan or even China. In the chassis and safety division for instance, 28 % percent of its global business is accounted for by Asia. Even as a group, Asia is expected to contribute 30 % of sales, while the Americas would chip in 25 %. Europe (and the rest of the world) would contribute the remaining 45 %. The Indian market might still be too young for these technologies, but there is little doubt about Continental’s focus on one of the most promising automotive markets in the world today.
AIBA: IMPROVING PRECISION
The Automated Indoor Braking Analyzer (AIBA), located at Contidrom, is a 300 x 30 m air-conditioned hall that allows the company to test tyres, in an environment that nullifies any impact whatsoever on test results owing to weather conditions. In all, AIBA leads to an improvement in precision testing of tyres by 70 %, claims Continental.
The facility is capable of conducting tests all year round on interchangeable road surfaces – wet and dry – that are hydraulically powered with constant friction coefficients under specified temperatures. The AIBA has been designed to include three specific sections – wedding, where the vehicle is connected to the rail system; surface change, which allows surfaces to be exchanged and accelerator, which allows transfer to the vehicle turntable and launch of the vehicle by sledge. Testing is also undertaken on an ice rink using conventional methods.
Inside the hall, an unmanned test vehicle revs up to speeds of up to 120 km/h and then braked to test passenger car, van, and 4x4 summer and winter tyres. The technique used is somewhat similar to a rollercoaster. The test vehicles are attached to a transport caddy on the rail alongside the 100 m road surface. At the end of the surface on either side, lie two turntables.
Conventional dry-road braking tests are conducted at a speed of 100 km/h, while wet-road braking tests are done at 80 km/h. Brakes are applied with pinpoint accuracy, thanks to automated controls. The track used for summer tyres is set at an ambient temperature of between 10° to 25° C, while the ice rink allows testers to set the track temperature to between -10° and -1° C. The air temperature is adjustable between 5° to 12° C.
Officials claim AIBA has helped check the deviations on previous tyre tests. Jürgen Ehlich, Head of Expert Field Objective Vehicle Dynamics Outdoor, Continental said, “Over repeated tests, AIBA helps to reduce deviation from over 2 % to under 1 %, and the accuracy of measurements is more than twice as good.”
Text: Deepangshu Dev Sarmah