Continental shifts from tyres to automotive AI

Article By : David Benjamin

The thrust of this mighty shift is to make driving safer for people, cleaner for the environment and "socially responsible," according to the company.

Continental Automotive is among the host of car suppliers at CES that is trying to get traction in automated driving.

Kurt Lehmann, first corporate technology officer, said Continental is a Frankfurt-based company with 220,000 employees—30,000 of them engineers—with a major footprint in Europe, the United States and China.

As emphasised by Ralph Lauxmann, senior vice president for systems and technology in its chassis and safety division, Continental has merged with a software developer, Elektrobit and partnered with Digilens to vastly expand its market penetration in cars with different technologies, especially in the use of AI.

Lehmann said the thrust of this mighty shift from tyres to advanced automotive electronics is to make driving safer for people, cleaner for the environment and "socially responsible."

Saving lives and trees

Among the keys to fulfilling this goal of automated mobility that saves lives and trees, said Lehmann, is the ability to accelerate the traditionally slow automotive development process. "With the platforms available to us, we fully believe we can shorten the development process," getting major advancements into "consumers' hands faster."

Lehmann noted that, although AI has been studied for some 60 years, recent leaps in areas like machine learning make AI now an "enabler for the future," with Continental involved in making that future imminent.

Among specific advances, cited by Lauxmann, is Continental's work high-resolution 3D lidar. He said this system is "better" than current camera-based vision systems for cars, because it's smaller and gives a 360-degree view of the environment around a car—even in low-light and foggy conditions—without the need for multiple lenses.

This lidar system can combine with radar, with the "augmented reality" capabilities being developed by Digilens and with Continental's "smart tyre" technology.

"Lidar is a picture of the environment. The tyre system is a picture of the condition of the road," said Lehmann. "Combine lidar, radar and tyre sensors, and you have a complete picture of the environment around the car."

In a question period, Lehmann conceded a few problems facing this vision, including the problem of which technologies Continental will share, which can be distributed to other suppliers and which might be offered publicly. He promised that Continental will "spread its data across many brands" while complying "100%" with regulators throughout the markets it serves."

Responding to a question about how "smart cars" will fare on "dumb roads," Lehmann smiled. A native of the upper peninsula of Michigan, Lehmann noted that all the roads there are dumb and will stay dumb indefinitely. Smart cars, he said, will be confined, for the foreseeable future to urban—in many cases, specially designed—urban environments.

In stressing his company's commitment to increasing car safety, through technology, while reducing the damage caused by cars to the environment, Lehmann said, "We believe we have the power at Continental to become a role model for our industry and an example of social responsibility."

First published by EE Times U.S.

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