One of the world’s foremost mobility pioneers, Continental is at the forefront of developing technology solutions that promise not just to address, but change the course of mobility in the near to distant future. The Hanover-headquartered Continental believes strongly that it has distinct competitive edge in the areas of electrification, connected mobility and automated driving – three areas that were on focus at the 2017 TechShow – and that it can make heavyweight contribution to the future of mobility – a future that is cleaner, safer, more intelligent and also affordable. Auto Tech Review brings you this ground report from Hanover, Germany.
For 146 years, Continental has been at the core of developing innovative products and services for the automotive and mobility industries. The global automotive sector has been evolving at an unprecedented pace in recent times, and Continental is in the thick of things as far as development and innovation of future mobility concepts, products and solutions are concerned.
Every two years, at the International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt, Continental showcases its newest innovations. And prior to the Frankfurt show, the company invites automotive journalists from around the world to see and experience these innovations first-hand. This year, about 140 media professionals from Europe, North America, Asia and Australia gathered at the Contidrom Proving Grounds, located north of Hanover in the Lüneburg Heath for TechShow 2017.
In line with the global megatrends, Continental focussed on innovations in the three major areas of electrification, connectivity and automated driving. On offer were 12 development vehicles, and over 30 technologies. More on these later.
In the context of three innovation streams mentioned above, Dr Elmar Degenhart, CEO and Chairman of the Executive Board, Continental said while technology will continue to drive growth in the future, success would come only when technology becomes available, reliable and affordable. Looking ahead, he said the vehicle of the future will be somewhat electrified in the near future, fully electrified in the distant future, will be able to drive automatically and will be fully interconnected.
Offering a perspective, he said the company estimates that by 2025, about 10 % of all new vehicles in the market will come with pure electric drivetrains, out of a global pool of 110 mn new vehicles. Around the same time, about 25-30 % of all combustion vehicles will be fitted with some kind of a hybrid solution. Clearly, combustion technologies by that time would need to become far cleaner than they are currently, and that would call for improved aftertreatment systems as well as 48 V systems, which Continental calls a “people hybrid” system.
“We believe we are well-positioned because we have the product portfolio necessary for automated, connected, safe and electric driving. We believe we have a competitive edge in these areas and we can make a heavyweight contribution to the future of mobility – a future that is cleaner, safer, more intelligent and affordable,” he said.
We asked him what he thought mobility would look like beyond the horizon of 15-20 years. Shared mobility would be a reality, he said, and didn’t rule out the possibility of even seeing flying vehicles in our cities in the future. But before the world sees that sort of innovations becoming practical, Dr Degenhart said we will certainly see vehicles in an autonomous driving mode – without pedals and steering wheels.
Autonomous driving will bring in radical changes in the mobility landscape of megacities. While city structures in the past were built according to the capabilities of vehicles, future cities will be designed to accommodate mobility solutions of the future. By then, the total number of vehicles will probably go down in cities, but the total mileage driven will go up.
He reasoned, “We have more than half of the population living in cities already, and this will go up to two-third even as the population will grow from 7.5 bn to 10 bn. The number of people living in cities will double in the next 30-40 years, while the number of people living in the country side will go slightly down. We have to apply shared mobility concepts in cities otherwise we will kill our cities. We will see people movers in high volumes in our cities.”
In all of this, Dr Degenhart believes it is critical for the industry to work together. Companies will need to come together to form intelligent and smart corporations, and build collaborations across different areas. Continental, in fact, has taken a step towards this. On June 20, 2017, the company joined hands for a self-driving platform developed by the BMW Group, Intel and Mobileye. Continental aims to play an important role in commercialising the new platform that is to be sold to other auto manufacturers. In a statement, he said the company can meet the steep demands in autonomous driving through an industry-wide collaboration more comprehensively, rapidly and at lower costs than by going alone.
We asked him his views on the increasing interest of IT/ technology companies in the automotive sector, to which he responded saying he believes the innovation landscape would benefit and gain speed when multiple stakeholders tie-up. And such tie-ups can happen not just between automotive companies, but also between auto and IT companies. “It will be exciting and interesting how this landscape of collaborations works out,” said the CEO of the € 40.5 bn company.
The integration of hardware, software and data are going to be critical in the development of self-driving vehicles. In such a scenario, IT companies will surely have a stake in the business. It would be a fair game, he believes, and there will be winners and losers on both sides.
Meanwhile, from an Indian perspective, Dr Degenhart was highly appreciative of the Indian government’s decision to bypass BS V emission regulations to move to BS VI regulations by 2020. Much like China and other parts of the world, India too has environmental concerns, and such a decision was necessary. Continental is absolutely supportive of this move and sees no challenge whatsoever in meeting the upcoming norms. In fact, Dr Degenhart believes the company can benefit from this decision.
Continental has been one of the pioneers in electrification of the powertrain, be it the 48 V mild hybrid applications or the high-voltage powertrains for electric and hybrid vehicles. Now, the company has also innovated in electrification of vehicle systems beyond the powertrain. Dr Degenhart said electric mobility also requires appropriate solutions in many other areas, such as engine mounts, brakes, wheels and tyres. And the extensive cross-divisional expertise in these areas gives Continental a holistic understanding of electric mobility.
The first innovation to catch our eye is the new wheel concept that optimises the braking system, specifically of EVs, (2). The wheel concept is based on a new division between the wheel and the axle. The wheel rim consists of two aluminium parts – the inner carrier star with the brake disk, and the outer rim well with the tyre. In contrast to conventional wheel brakes, the new wheel concept brake engages the aluminium disk from the inside, thus allowing it to have a particutlarly large diameter that benefits the braking performance. It reduces weight of the wheel and brake, and cuts down on the service costs due to a lifetime brake disk and an easy brake pad change. Since it is made of aluminium, it is corrosion-free and prevents formation of rust.
Aimed at making EVs more acceptable and accessible to consumers, Continental has introduced an innovative charging technology that turns electric powertrain into a universal charger – a world first – catering to all types of cable-based charging station. The solution has been developed to always use the maximum output rate, up to 800 V and up to 350 kW at all types of charging stations – single-phase AC, three-phase AC or high-speed DC. Continental claims the use of the AllCharge system, (3), will offer maximum benefit – up to 12 times faster charging possible – at urban AC charging stations. Dr Martin Brüll, responsible for the new charging system, said five minutes of charging using the 350 kW DC charging provides approximately 150 km of driving range. The technology allows for two possible charging current paths to the battery, using a single cable connector.
The other key innovation demonstration was the super clean electrified diesel that uses a 48 V mild hybrid system not just to reduce fuel consumption, and therefore CO2 emissions, but also achieve significant reductions in pollutant emissions from diesel engines, (4). By making various modifications to a Euro 6 standard diesel vehicle, engineers at Continental were able to reduce NOx emissions by 60 %. In real-world testing on the road, Continental claimed to have kept NOx emissions well below the legal limits, in addition to being able to cut CO2 emissions by 4 %. The technology package developed by Continental comprises of highly flexible fuel injection, 48 V hybrid system, SCR exhaust aftertreatment and electrically heated catalyst.
Some of the other notable showcases in the electrification area include the electronically switchable engine mount that reduces in-vehicle vibrations and enhances ride comfort, automated wireless charging solution for EVs, and new generation compact power electronics controls.
For the last two decades that Continental has been offering internet connectivity to vehicles, it claims to have connected over 30 mn vehicles worldwide. We were informed that for the first time ever, half of all new cars this year will be equipped with some form of connectivity solution, and that by 2020, around 250 mn connected cars will be on our roads all around the world. Helmut Matschi, member of the Executive Board at Continental and head of the Interior Division said “data” is the fuel of the 21st century, and hence Continental is focusing on holistic connectivity for a seamless online connection and developing the entire vehicle into an open system. Holistic connectivity concerns all aspects of a connected vehicle – from the in-vehicle electronics architecture, through the seamless connection, to the services and the interaction between driver and vehicle, he said.
One of the most fascinating innovations showcased at the TechShow this year was the speakerless audio system developed by Continental engineers, (5). But how does a car’s audio system work if there are no speakers? For the development team at Continental, the answer was simple – the car itself is the speaker! The concept sounded simple too, when explained. Every surface, when excited, creates sound. And that exactly is the foundation Continental engineers worked upon, turning the surface area of the car into one giant loudspeaker. Continental has used compact actuators to excite suitable surfaces to generate sound waves. This is similar to the core of a conventional speaker, where transducers consisting of a magnet and coil, send micro-vibrations to a membrane that then oscillates and transmits those vibrations to the car. In the new set-up, larger existing components and surfaces in the vehicle are excited by the transducers to radiate the sound, thus making the entire car the oscillating membrane.
In its drive towards holistic connectivity, Continental is opening up the connected car to the developer community. It plans to invite interested developers to a Hackathon – an event for collaborative software development – at the Frankfurt Motor Show, where teams of innovative individuals will develop new ideas and services and directly integrate them in the cloud terminal as apps.
Continental’s cloud terminal transfers applications from the head unit to the cloud, thus offering maximum flexibility in the cockpit. Applications in the cloud are processed before being displayed on a powerful browser. This ensures that the system is always up-to-date and that new functions can be added at any time, explained Continental engineers. In addition, the cloud terminal also acts as the driver’s digital assistant. It can analyse the driver’s habits at different times of the day or week and automatically set the entertainment programme to play, or optimise the navigation system for automatic guidance.
A fascinating new development is that of surface materials as a contributor to road safety. Continental believes that adaptation of surface colour in event of fatigue or dangerous traffic situation could increase the driver’s awareness levels. If surface materials are combined with various lighting technologies, the background lighting, for example, can adapt to circadian rhythms, weather conditions and ambient light levels, while the accent lighting can use light colours and intensities to generate moods, explained Continental.
3D clusters, (6), two-finger touch interaction, solutions for the future rental car that is connected and seamless connectivity were some of the other key demonstrations at TechShow 2017.
With automated driving, Continental sees an evolutionary as well as a revolutionary path. Dr Degenhart believes 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. Self-driving cars and shared mobility would become commonplace in the world by 2030 and beyond, and Continental is focussed on building new forms of future urban mobility. Continental has been testing self-driving cars on public roads since 2012 in the US state of Nevada, and now has a global fleet of development vehicles in Germany, Japan, China and the US.
The Cruising Chauffeur function follows the national traffic regulations, enabling the vehicle to take over driving on highways, and letting the driver take over driving at the end of the highway stretch, (7). This is made possible by a specially developed human-machine-interface (HMI) that is being tested in vehicles currently. In situations where the driver fails to respond to prompts to take over driving, the vehicle is able to stop automatically, using the minimum risk manoeuvre. This function will be part of the Cruising Chauffeur when it is ready for production in 2020, informed Continental.
The Cruising Chauffeur includes an additional fall-back mode that conventional vehicles do not have. That’s plan ‘B’. If the driver is no longer able to take control of the wheel again, for whatever reason, then the Cruising Chauffeur would bring the car to a stop safely. Once the system is activated, data from vehicle surroundings sensors such as cameras, radar and LiDAR are analysed in a central control unit known as the Assisted & Automated Driving Control Unit (ADCU).
The second interesting innovation we saw was that of trained parking, (8). For drivers, who find parking an annoying task, Continental has now provided vehicles with a memory function. With the trained parking solution, drivers can train their vehicles to perform parking procedures at the touch of a button. The trained parking function records and stores the sequence of a parking procedure. To detect surroundings, the trained parking function uses existing sensors in the vehicle such as cameras and radars. Trained parking will be available in two versions – a partial automated variant that still requires driver supervision by the driver and is expected to be in series production in 2020. That will be followed by a fully automated variant that will require no driver supervision.
Brakes, along with the steering, will continue to remain the most important element of active safety, said Continental. Advanced or highly automated driving (HAD) would demand a lot more from braking systems. Continental’s MK C1 electronic brake solution, a by-wire system that offers a particularly fast, precise and autonomous pressure build-up, is ideal for automated driving, claimed engineers. The company has now combined the MK C1 with a derivative of the MK 100 ESC (electronic stability control) to achieve the requirements of braking redundancy. Although highly unlikely, in the event of the primary EBS failing, the secondary EBS will step in and provide the required braking function. Should the primary EBS fail completely, the MK 100 HBE unit will stop the vehicle with the front wheels and provide an ABS function.
The MK C1 is in production since 2016 and enables 100 % recuperation of braking energy, and is approximately 30 % lighter. It integrates the tandem master cylinder (TMC), brake booster and control systems (ABS and ESC) into a compact, weight-saving one box design module and can build up braking pressure in 150 ms (time-to-lock), which is twice as fast as conventional systems today.
As mentioned earlier, Continental believes urban areas would need driverless vehicles – robo-taxis that provide a solution for congestion, accidents, contaminated air and parking problems in cities. Continental has developed a demo vehicle, which they call Continental Urban mobility Experience or CUbE, and will use it to test and research driverless passenger transportation at its location in Frankfurt starting this year, (9). The company is developing cross-divisional solutions for driverless robo-taxis. It has access to an almost complete product portfolio of its own, including sensors, actuators, control units and communication and networking technology. In addition to existing technologies, new technologies such as laser sensors are also being used on the CUbE.
Although Continental showcased innovations in three areas of future significance, there are many other areas that the company is investing its mind on. For instance, Dr Degenhart said the company also has to develop technologies based on synthetic fuels and hydrogen because sometime in the future, they may be competitive in terms of technology and price.
As a technology, pure EVs are still too expensive and affordability isn’t justified in terms of today’s technology. He is not one to believe incentives really help – they may boost sales for a certain period of time, but if you are taking these incentives away, volumes plummet, he commented. “We believe hybrid systems – soft or plug-in – are a bridge technology that helps to go from pure combustion technology to pure electric drive technology in the future. We need battery cells in the future that allows for a range of 500 km, inductive fast charging which has high energy density and we need the volume and weight of today’s lithium-ion cells to be cut in half, and cost to be cut down significantly – from a level of € 250/ kWh to below € 100/ kWh,” Dr Degenhart said.
It’s an interesting time for Continental; so it is for the mobility industry. While it focusses on offering innovative solutions for the foreseeable future, the company is mindful of the challenges. And for that very reason, Dr Degenhart harps on the importance of the industry stakeholders – including the political establishment – collaborating to find meaningful solutions for future mobility.
TEXT: Deepangshu Dev Sarmah