Driving the Future With Continental

Craig Cole
by Craig Cole

Continental is a German supplier that provides all kinds of components to automakers, from turbochargers and transmission-control units to radar sensors and instrument clusters.

Chances are you know them for tires, but this company is far more diverse than that. In fact they have a variety of business units that cover huge portions of the automotive industry.

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Advanced driver-assistance systems and safety technology are two major areas they focus on. Recently AutoGuide.com attended an event where we learned about some of the cutting-edge things Conti is currently developing to make driving both easier and safer in the future.

Trailer Reverse Assist

Towing is a unique challenge, especially when you have to back up. It’s hard to see behind you and steering motions are inverted. To take some of the stress out of this process the company has created two different, but related technologies designed to make this process a lot easier.

The first one allows you to steer via a small control knob mounted on the center console. This system features a self-centering rotary dial that taps into a vehicle’s electrically boosted power steering. The advantage of this is that the inputs are normal. Im plainer terms, you turn the knob left to drive the trailer left and right to make it go right.

Conti’s system works remarkably well and in testing it was noticeable easier to reverse a very large trailer, and do it precisely, using this system compared to the steering wheel.

The second technology they’ve created permits you to drive via a tablet computer. Engineers have created a special app that ties into a car or truck’s steering, braking and engine-control systems. It allows you to literally drive from outside the vehicle. You control the gear selector, brakes and accelerator from the tablet’s screen. To steer you simply rotate the device left or right.

This allows you a greater degree of control because you can stand right behind the trailer you’re reversing. If there are any obstacles in the way you’ll be able to see – and more importantly – avoid them.

The knob-control system should be production ready by 2018; the tablet interface is a lot farther off. It does not have a projected on-sale date at this time.

360-Degree Surround View

Several automakers offer so-called “around-view monitors.” By digitally stitching video feeds from different exterior cameras together they can create a virtual overhead view of your car or truck. This is hardly a new feature but it’s something engineers at Continental are working to improve.

Demonstrated in a specially modified Lincoln MKZ, their 360-Degree Surround View system is a clear step up from what’s on the market today. The car is outfitted with four fish-eye cameras. There’s one under the front badge, another in each side-view mirror and a fourth on the trunk lid. These imaging sensors provide a 185-degree field of vision.

Handling display duties is a special dual-purpose rear-view mirror. It functions as both a reflective surface and a screen, switching on as necessary and off again when it’s no longer needed.

The super wide-angle images gathered by this system’s cameras allow engineers to simulate an overhead view of the car from straight down to even a rear three-quarter shot.

Using an advanced computer the four video feeds are combined to create a virtual “bowl” around the car. Once that’s done the focal point can be moved around, which provides different points of view. Naturally this takes a lot of software and just as much processing power.

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Beyond optical imaging, that quartet of cameras are also connected to the MKZ’s directional indicators and steering wheel. When you turn the tiller or put a blinker on the image displayed on the rear-view mirror changes to show relevant information, either by switching to an appropriate camera or panning the focal point around the virtual bowl mentioned earlier.

Beyond these scenarios there’s a lot more Continental’s 360-Degree Surround View system can do. It’s really an early glimpse into the future and it’s easy to imagine a world where technology like this is standard, or even compulsory. It’s estimated this system will be available by model-year 2018.

Autonomous Emergency Braking

Advanced driver-assistance features like adaptive cruise control and collision-mitigation braking are often reserved for high-priced vehicles; they aren’t necessarily accessible to all drivers. But Continental is working on a more affordable system to provide comparable safety at a lower cost.

Their Autonomous Emergency Brake technology has numerous advantages over competing systems. Existing models on the market often require multiple sensors, such as a forward-facing camera and a radar unit. But this development could cut that number in half.

Instead it relies on their new fourth-generation radar array, which is capable of shooting though plastic, meaning it can be mounted behind a vehicle’s bumper cover where it’s both out of sight and protected from damage.

This new radar sensor can be married to Conti’s MK C1 electronic braking unit, which cleverly combines the master cylinder, booster unit and ABS assembly all into one component. This is beneficial for packaging plus it trims weight.

Compared to a conventional braking system with a supplemental vacuum pump, this arrangement saves nearly nine pounds. In a world where fractions of an ounce count, this is a big deal.

Aside from all of its clever engineering the MK C1 has a few other laudable attributes. For starters it does not require vacuum assist since it’s eclectically operated; braking is done by linear actuator. This means the pedal is not directly connected to the master cylinder.

Of course redundancy has been engineered into it. If there’s any sort of failure a pair of fluid-control valves connect your foot directly to the master cylinder. Another benefit of the MK C1 is that it responds three to four times faster than conventional ABS.

This braking unit is scheduled to go on sale somewhere in the world this year.

Highly Automated Driving

Like it or not, fully autonomous driving is the future. We’re not there yet, but someday you’ll be able to tell your vehicle where you want to go and it will take you there all on its own.

Full autonomy is still a major leap ahead of manual motoring, though fortunately this is not an all or nothing proposition. There’s a useful step in between and Continental calls it highly automated driving. Think of it as cruise control that can stop, steer and accelerate your vehicle all on its own. They’ve been working on this for years and the latest version shows a lot of promise.

This technology is designed for use on the highway. It keeps your vehicle going down the middle of its lane, maintains safe following distances and even slows down for curves. When exiting the interstate the driver is expected to resume control once again.

To deliver all of this, Continental’s Highly Automated Driving car features a battery of sensors including a long-range radar scanner, a forward-facing stereo camera, four short-range radar units throughout the body as well as the firm’s Surround-View system.

Seeing this vehicle in action is quite remarkable; it drives with impressive steadiness and smoothness. They’ve been developing this technology for a long time and it shows. Including previous versions it’s been tested for tens of thousands of miles in the real world and has never had a single issue.

Continental’s highly automated driving seems production ready, though it’s not expected to hit the market until around the 2020 timeframe.

V2X Communication

Perhaps one of the most fascinating technologies under development is vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication. If cars and trucks could talk to one another both safety and convenience could be dramatically improved

One of the best examples of how this system could benefit drivers in the real world is by helping them see other vehicles that are obscured. Let’s say you’re in a turn lane waiting to go left down a side street. Let’s also say there’s another car facing you in that lane and there’s a hill that blocks your view of oncoming traffic. When is it safe to proceed?

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In some situations it’s impossible to tell, you almost have to take a leap of faith. But with vehicle-to-vehicle communication your car can alert you to the presence of another motorist in the oncoming lane. It can warn you of the danger or even prevent you from going at all.

This system works with something known as dedicated short-range communication, DSRC for short. Think of it a walkie-talkie for cars, with transceivers that operate at 5.9 GHz.

But there’s more to this system than just safety, it can also help save your sanity. Imagine if your car or truck could communicate with traffic signals in addition to other vehicles; you might never get stuck at another red light.

Continental demonstrated the benefits of this with a special test car and traffic light that both got their V2X treatment. The signal was able to talk to the vehicle, letting it know when it was going to change from red; the car could then inform the driver of how fast to go so he or she arrived at the intersection just as the light went green. A force-feedback accelerator pedal helps ensure they travel the right speed to avoid getting stuck at the light.

Right now Continental is working on V2X communication and many automakers are interested. Some OEMs are targeting a 2017 launch for this system; others are waiting to see how things shake out before jumping on the bandwagon.

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Craig Cole
Craig Cole

Born and raised in metro Detroit, Craig was steeped in mechanics from childhood. He feels as much at home with a wrench or welding gun in his hand as he does behind the wheel or in front of a camera. Putting his Bachelor's Degree in Journalism to good use, he's always pumping out videos, reviews, and features for AutoGuide.com. When the workday is over, he can be found out driving his fully restored 1936 Ford V8 sedan. Craig has covered the automotive industry full time for more than 10 years and is a member of the Automotive Press Association (APA) and Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA).

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