The international automotive supplier Continental, based in Hanover, and the Munich-based BMW Group are pooling their development capacities to define the long-term prerequisites for series introduction of highly automated driving on European freeways. In January 2013, the two companies signed an agreement to jointly develop an electronic co-pilot for this purpose. The overarching aim of the research partnership is to pave the way to highly automated driving functions beyond the year 2020.
“Automated driving is a key element in future mobility. It will significantly enhance safety, comfort and efficiency on the roads,” said Elmar Degenhart, Chairman of the Executive Board of Continental. “In collaboration with BMW Group, we will work out an overarching technical concept that enables highly automated freeway driving in a way that is safe, attractive, and affordable for end customers. We are enriching the project with our systems expertise in the areas of vehicle safety, driver information, and powertrain technology,” he added.
“The joint research project with BMW Group addresses the enormous need for the kind of R&D required to realize the vision of automated driving. After all, driving cannot be automated overnight. It is, much more, a gradual process, stretching out over a period of over ten years,” Degenhart continued.
The cooperative project between the BMW Group and Continental runs through to the end of 2014. Several prototype test vehicles equipped for automated driving are set to be built in the course of these two years. The research prototypes will then be made available to a select team of trained test participants. Employing close-to-production technology, testing will involve analyzing highly automated driving functions not only on German freeways but on freeways in other European countries as well. The tests will cover all the challenges freeways pose, such as interchanges, toll plazas and roadworks.
Continental Brings Its Extensive Systems Expertise to the Project
As research partner, Continental will make key contributions in several areas of the project. The company will provide the driving environment sensor systems needed to operate the test vehicles, for example. The aim here is to create a high-performance model of the vehicle environment. This will involve the use of both long-range radar and camera systems already in series production at Continental.
To ensure incident-free use of the test fleet at all times, Continental will develop a safety architecture that allows for stable operation of test vehicles even if malfunctions occur. In addition to helping with the construction of the test vehicles, the company will play a key role in defining both the functional and the electrical/electronic architecture (E/E architecture). Continental will be involved in the development of functions and in conducting the necessary backend research under BMW Group’s guidance.
Automated Driving: Continental with Many Years of Research Experience
Today, more than 1,300 specialists at Continental are already working on the basics of automated driving. They deal specifically with driver assistance systems, such as adaptive cruise control and emergency brake assistance. These make use of sophisticated technology like cameras and infrared and radar systems to record the vehicle environment in various driving situations, thereby alerting, assisting, and relieving the driver. In 2013, Continental is investing more than EUR100 million in R&D.
Continental is already a leading manufacturer of driver assistance systems. Since the first series project in 1999 for the Mercedes S-Class, the company has realized more than 100 projects for automotive manufacturers worldwide. What is more, Continental has racked up many years of experience in the design of display and user interfaces and in the energy management of powertrain systems. The strategic advanced development unit coordinates systems-level integration on a cross-domain basis. In conjunction with its network of partners in the field of information and communication technology, this setup enables Continental to realize a holistic approach to automated driving. The global supplier can also look back on many years of development activities in the field of automation. In 2011, for instance, as part of the EU research project HAVEit, the company developed a highly automated assist system for driving in traffic jams and around roadworks. The project provided an example of technology suitable for a complex traffic scenario.
Alongside its involvement in other research projects (AKTIV, DARPA Urban Challenge), the company completed a two-week endurance test with already close-to-production technology in the U.S. state of Nevada in early 2012. Over 15,000 miles of highly automated driving have been recorded on public roads, primarily in Nevada. In December 2012, the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) authorized Continental’s use of this vehicle on the state’s public roads for the purpose of testing autonomated driving. This makes Continental the first automotive supplier to receive this kind of license from the respective homologation authority.
With preliminary sales of EUR32.7 billion in 2012, Continental is among the leading automotive suppliers worldwide. As a supplier of brake systems, systems and components for powertrains and chassis, instrumentation, infotainment solutions, vehicle electronics, tires, and technical elastomers, Continental contributes to enhanced driving safety and global climate protection. Continental is also an expert partner in networked automobile communication. Continental currently has more than 170,000 employees in 46 countries.