Technology company Continental has been investing heavily on research and development on new technologies that will lead to its globally acceptable objectives of zero accidents, zero emissions and zero stress with smart connectivity and convenience. At the recently-concluded Tech Day at Hannover, the company presented numerous innovations that reflected the major trends of the industry summit, all under the tagline of ‘Mobility is the Heartbeat of Life.’
Dr Elmar Degenhart, Chairman of the Continental Executive Board, in his presentation said, Continental develops technologies in three areas: Alternative drive systems, Autonomous driving and Connected vehicle, and the cloud along with data management. “Technology is our strength and is an area in which we have an outstanding level of expertise,” he said. True to his statement, in the past year alone, the company invested more than Euro Three billion in research and development of technologies for the next generation of mobility. “With our investments in R&D, we are creating the greatest upheaval in the automotive industry. Our alternative drive systems and technologies for automated and autonomous driving and for the connected car are the key ingredients for a healthy mobility ecosystem which is environmentally efficient and socially acceptable,” Degenhart said.
Alternative Drive Systems
Autonomous driving and connectivity are evolving technologies. As advanced driver assistance systems, they are making driving safer, more convenient and acceptable to customers. But this is not the case with the alternative drive systems that are radically disruptive and fast. It is not the car buyers who set the pace but the lawmakers who stipulate the technology and they rely on battery-powered electric drive systems for the targets they set. They are in a haste though they have only very little understanding of how technologies develop and mature. This puts the carmakers under tremendous pressure to reach the limits for carbon dioxide emissions. For these limits the manufacturers are focusing on hybrid and electric drives.
According to Dr Degenhart, after 2030, the last generation of diesel and gasoline engines will be launched.
Beyond 2040, their roll out will cease. By 2050 fossil-fuelled vehicles will become extinct and the roads and cities will be free of CO2 emissions. In China, this progress is expected to be faster, he said. Still the lingering question is whether electric drive is the most eco-efficient and economic choice for humanity? However, for the present the industry is going on in the electric route.
To the question of how he is driving Continental to its ambitious goal, Degenhart told AutoParts Asia, “The transformation from combustion to alternative drives will be complete in 20 years, by 2040. This is not very long. This means we have a time frame of two generations to optimise the combustion engines and move on to the next. Therefore, we have to prepare our organisation now; we have to start educating our people so that they can do another job in future. The transformation process depends on understanding this without missing anything.”
He said it is necessary to work for a carbon-free environment by developing technologies together with the OEMs on battery electric vehicles. The main objectives are to cut cost and develop viable concepts for recycling lithium-ion batteries. The industry should not get struck in 10-15 years like the nuclear power industry which is yet to find a suitable solution to deal with the radioactive residues.
Investing on alternative powertrains for heavy vehicles with huge gross weight is very important. Fuel cells are considered to be the right technology for them. It is also necessary to optimise combustion technology as 20 years is too long to rely on today’s emission behaviour of engines. He said synthetic fuel should be perfected further as it is possible to add 15-20 percent of that to gasoline or diesel engine without any modification. The contribution to the environment will be great and cost effective.
According to him future growth is driven by two types of systems: assisted driving and partially automated driving. The industry is currently investing a lot on driverless vehicles. “In many cases, we feel that it is too early, because we are not expecting to see substantial growth in this field for another ten years. An exception is the business with Robo taxis, which are driverless. They will probably get started earlier. We are convinced that we are moving at the right pace and direction. In this way, we are consolidating our leading position,” he said.
On the role of software in the evolution of new technologies, Degenhart said, the automotive industry has very little expertise in this as it is hardware-centric. The laws applicable to hardware are entirely different from those for programming. IT industry has an edge. But it has not been able to put a safe and reliable vehicle on the road. The crucial question is: “Who is faster in learning?” Is the automotive industry quick in mastering the art of high-performance programming or the IT industry the skill to make safe cars? In Silicon Valley, the adage is: Better done than perfect. In contrast, in the automotive industry it is: Better perfect than done. Because only perfect is safe.
Safe driving depends on the perfect interplay among all four of these technologies. “We use all of them in most of our components and systems,” he said.
The industry sells 20 times more hardware than it did 60 years ago. That amounts to about USD 2,500 billion, according to figures from a market consultant. Its software sales are for only USD 280 billion. Sales of services are about USD 30 billion, though it is only a fraction of what is to come.
Degenhart foresees that hardware sales in the automotive sector will slow down while those of computer programmes will increase tenfold to $2,700 billion. This is a gigantic piece of the pie! But who is going to get the biggest piece? Everybody is after it, especially the computer, electronics and internet companies. Their mission is to conquer the car as they have done with our offices and homes. In the connected car they sense big business with information, entertainment, and above all, with advertising. Then there is the automotive industry as a whole.
“We too want a big share; we develop computer programmes for this purpose and use them to connect the systems in the car; we use them to make the car a part of the internet. Already 60 percent of our sales in the automotive sector are from electronics, software and sensor technology. Our technology is the brain of modern mobility and increasing number of cars has it. We are making ourselves smarter and faster with strong partners; because in the new mobility ecosystem, no one can do everything on one’s own. Our customers need strong and reliable allies like us because we connect, think and act in networks. For this, we work together with other industries. Our list of strategic partners is long and growing. Many of them are prominent in their field. We added 18 new partnerships in the field of interconnectivity last year alone,” he said.
As part of the Tech Day, Continental showcased technologies, some with live demonstrations. Some of them are described below.
New Power Module
For electric vehicles, the focus is on the motor, battery and power electronics. The central part is the power module which enables currents of up to 650 amps. For years now, Continental has been offering power electronics – a mini computer that manages the interaction between motor and battery. It is the brain of the electric drive system, for plug-in hybrid models, electric cars featuring highly integrated axle drives and high performance. Continental has developed electronics as one of its core competencies. The third generation of power electronics from the company is used in an electric SUV of a European manufacturer in a configuration that processes these high currents, improving driving performance. It delivers six times the performance of the first, while its weight has been reduced from 12Kg to eight kg.
The technological highlight of power electronics is the special production process for the required microchips. The conventional soldered wire connections are replaced with sintering technology. The microchips sintered on both sides in the power module will have longer service life, reliability and thermal capacity. The Powertrain Division is using this technology in automotive electronics.
Continental has developed an improved version of its 48-volt drive solution with 30 kW. A fully hybrid vehicle with 48-volt technology was previously deemed impossible since the electric part of the drive would normally use high voltages of up to 800V.
However, the Continental engineers have developed 48-volt high-power technology with electric motor integrated into power electronics and battery. It reduces fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20 percent, compared with similar vehicles fitted with combustion engines. Besides, it is cheaper than the high-voltage systems used so far.
The 48-volt systems were previously known as mild or P0 hybrids that used relatively unobtrusive electrification of the powertrain. Fuel consumption is reduced mainly with the support of the combustion engine (boosting) during acceleration and the recovery of excess kinetic energy (recuperation) when the vehicle decelerates. However, purely electric driving is not possible with such systems. In the current design, the 48V system was repositioned in the powertrain. The electric motor was no longer placed in front of the combustion engine on the crankshaft, but behind it – between the combustion engine and transmission (P2 hybrid). This meant that fuel savings were able to increase and, in certain situations, such as driving through a 30 km/h speed limit zone, the vehicle could be driven using the electric motor alone.
With the new 48-volt high-power technology, this hybrid system enables the same functionality as the previous, full-hybrid vehicles. The key component here is a new, water-cooled electric motor, the peak output of which was doubled to 30 kW in comparison with that used previously. Electric-only driving is therefore possible up to a speed range of 80 to 90 km/h. It achieves 100 percent increase in power while maintaining the diameter of the motor. Overall, 48V high-power technology requires only a little more installation space than the previous system. The difference in weight is also minimal.
However, the electric motor is not the only new component of the 48-volt high-power technology. The integrated power electronics also uses a new technology that now enables it to handle significantly higher currents. The innovations of the new 48V high-power technology result in a level of electrical efficiency that surpasses the previous system by almost 10 percent. And during recuperation, the new technology is more effective than the previous one and it reduces loss in the electric drive system by half.
Integrated Axle Drive
Continental began to develop an electric drive in 2006 and it was used in an electric car from a European manufacturer in 2011. The marketready third generation of the axle drive technology has the backing of long years of expertise and of experiences from daily use.
The new, more powerful axle drive which offers outstanding driving experience is also cost effective. It weighs less than 80 kg and the function of an electric parking lock has now been integrated into the transmission. The smart integration of components replaces numerous cable connections and connectors. Axle drive comes with two performance levels, with 120 kW or 150 kW, and owing to its size, performance data and characteristics, it is suitable for many vehicle classes and concepts. Specifically, the drive module will take to the road in a small European car and several compact SUVs from Asian manufacturers later this year.
The vehicle sensors like cameras, radar, and lasers help a Robo-taxi to detect its surroundings reliably, accurately and completely for its autonomous drive. With the aid of CUbE (Continental Urban moBility Experience), Continental has developed a production-ready radar system especially for driverless vehicles. The vehicle can generate a 360-degree image of its environment by combining data from different sensors. This, in turn, ensures a higher level of accuracy, because radar systems function independent of visibility conditions. They can even see through objects such as parked cars and detect the street corner behind them.
Continental’s radar sensor, which will be used in the EZ10 autonomous shuttle from EasyMile, can detect the vehicle’s environment up to a radius of 200 metres. The vehicle is equipped with seven radar sensors, laser sensors and cameras. They help determine the precise location and early detection of obstacles and potentially critical situations.
3D Lightfield Display
Continental is developing an innovative cockpit solution, the Natural 3D Lightfield Instrument Cluster, in cooperation with a Silicon Valley company, Leia Inc. Lightfield displays are the next generation of medium that allows perception of 3D depth, highlighting, sparkles and other complex light effects. The technology enables information to be safely presented to the driver in realtime, allowing the driver´s interaction with the vehicle to become more comfortable and intuitive. It also allows passengers in the front and back seats to share the 3D experience with the driver.
A new function developed by Continental enables cars to take preemptive action against potential risks. Thanks to matched sensors, data processing, and assistance systems, the vehicle knows exactly how fast to travel to ensure a journey that is both fast and safe, as it anticipates what to expect from the bends and road surface conditions ahead. To achieve this, the company is networking several well-established technologies. The Road Condition Observer, for example, uses the systems already present in the vehicle, such as the Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and camera systems, to classify the road conditions as dry, wet, very wet (risk of aquaplaning), snow-covered or icy.
Using an estimated friction coefficient based on this classification, it is possible to predict how well the tyres will grip the respective section of road.
Information from eHorizon is of fundamental importance for PreviewESC, an additional ESC function developed by Continental. As soon as eHorizon makes the data regarding the friction coefficient and curve radius of the road ahead available, PreviewESC compares this with the actual vehicle speed to determine whether the vehicle is, for example, travelling too fast to make it safely around the next bend.
Continental has unveiled a short-range radar using 77 GHz technology to detect other road users and obstacles more precisely. The individual components, antenna and radio-frequency (RF) chip, are now housed in a smaller installation space, rendering the sensor even more compact. This, in turn, makes it easier to install the system in the vehicle, even in confined places. The new radar sensors can be positioned at each of the four corners of the vehicle body to ensure almost seamless 360-degree monitoring of the vehicle surroundings. The system can detect a cyclist approaching from behind the vehicle on the right side (in left-hand drive markets). Right-Turn Assist intervenes if the driver wants to turn right when the cyclist is just about to pass along the right side of the vehicle. Drivers are not always able to recognise such a risky situation, even when they look over their shoulders. If the radar sensors detect a cyclist in such a situation, they transmit an appropriate signal to the brakes and the car stops before colliding with the cyclist. Needless to say, this safety function also protects pedestrians and scooter riders.
Voice-activated Digital Companion
An adaptive voice-activated digital assistant for vehicles developed by Continental focuses on the most natural means of communication: the spoken word. The system is capable of communicating almost like a human being. The smart voice assistant offers many benefits, such as the seamless transition between various function menus. For example, the driver might ask for a route to activate the satellite navigation system. He might then ask about free parking spaces at the destination or even dictate an e-mail to book a table at a restaurant in the vicinity of the destination. The system ensures coherent communication, sends the relevant data from the navigation system to the parking space assistant, matches the internet search for restaurants to the location of the recommended parking garage and, finally, transfers data from the navigation system (estimated time of arrival) and restaurant search (address and e-mail contact) to the e-mail and voice recorder programme in order to reserve a table.
Even by uttering I’m feeling hungry,’ the system will prompt with the list of restaurants nearby. The system is also capable of learning; with each interaction, the system optimises the driver’s user profile. If, during the next trip, the driver says ‘I’m hungry,’ the smart voice assistant will initially suggest Chinese restaurants to the driver if these have been frequently selected by the user. But with the response ‘No, I’d prefer Italian,’ this selection can quickly be updated. This is especially useful because if the assistant is familiar with the user’s preferences, it will in the future – for example, if it notices that the electric vehicle battery does not have sufficient charge left – recommend a charging station near a shopping centre, park or restaurant, depending on the user’s preferences.
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