Dr. Karsten Michels

Dr. Karsten Michels

Continuing just-auto/QUBE's series of interviews with automotive suppliers exhibiting at CES, we spoke to Dr Karsten Michels, head of Interior Systems & Technology, division Interior, Continental to learn about the company's showcase.

Looking around the CES, it seems like almost everything is now connected to everything else including the cars. What is your vision of the connected car?

Vehicles will become holistically connected and thus part of the internet of everything. They will not only allow drivers to seamlessly integrate their digital lifestyle into the vehicle [but] are truly becoming a digital companion.

As part of the internet of everything, vehicles will also share accurate and fresh data on the roads, traffic and potentially hazardous situations among each other, the infrastructure and, of course, drivers. Thus they will not only make driving safer but also more efficient and more convenient.

Over-the-air updateability of the entire vehicle software to keep the firmware up-to-date or install new functions and features will already become common with the next vehicle generations.

Your Holistic Connectivity Experience demonstrated at the CES 2018 brings together a range of web technologies to deliver a better driving. Which technologies can we expect to see on the road anytime soon?

With the holistic connectivity experience, we are harnessing web technologies to help vehicle manufacturers transform the driving experience, ensuring the delivery of dynamic, context-based services.

For the services we are using HTML5, as it allows the vehicle manufacturer or us to integrate services and functions easily. It enables a simple adaption of the user interface in a way that ideally suits the vehicle's HMI concept.

We also see that the vehicle architectures are changing drastically towards a more service-oriented approach, which leverages central computing units instead of dedicated electronic control units.

Is there such a thing as a cyber-secure car?

The goal is to keep cybersecurity of vehicles always at the highest level possible. This already starts within the development process for products and systems and does not end until a vehicle has reached the end of its lifecycle. For this reason, we are developing and offering end-to-end security solutions and services together with our software company Elektrobit and the cybersecurity specialists from Argus Cyber Security. The solutions not only involve security and health monitoring for fleets but also over-the-air updates to install new software versions or security patches for the entire lifetime of a vehicle.

We understand that Continental has developed an invisible car speaker, known as Ac2ated Sound. How do you determine the location of each speaker? Do different parts of the car generate different frequencies?

Specific areas in the vehicle lend themselves to each of the required three main frequency ranges. The A-pillar is suited for high frequencies, while the door panels, for instance, have the right properties for generating medium frequencies. Similar to speaker technology, we use large components such as the roof lining or rear shelf to generate low frequencies.

How does Act2ated compare to alternative to high-end audio systems?

In terms of audio performance, Ac2ated sound compares very well and we have received a lot of positive feedback not only from our customers but also from experts.

Besides audio performance, there are two more aspects to point out: Firstly, the approach to use actuators, which excite certain trim materials in a vehicle gives great freedom to vehicle designers as they don't have to integrate traditional speakers in their design concepts. Secondly, Ac2ated sound also significantly reduces weight and box volume in comparison to traditional audio systems with similar performance. To achieve a good 3D sound, conventional high-end car audio systems can easily require between ten and 20 or more speakers giving the system a weight of up to 15 kilograms and a total box volume of 10 to 30 litres. Ac2ated Sound can, in comparison, weigh as little as 1 kilogram and requires as little as 1 litre of total box volume.

This has also convinced the Jury of the CES innovation Awards, who has given an "Honoree" Award to Ac2ated Sound.

While giving instructions in our cars is nothing new, putting questions to the likes of Alexa and Cortana while on the road is. Is this the way things are going, i.e. having more conversations with our cars?

In an increasingly connected and digital world, keeping driver distraction at a minimum while giving the driver access to his digital lifestyle is of utmost importance. A speech interface to control certain functions in a vehicle seems to be an obvious solution.

In the past however, users have often not accepted voice control as they had to learn certain commands or poor performance has led to misunderstandings and very quickly to frustration.

This is why the focus today is on a natural dialogue between the driver and the vehicle supported by artificial intelligence. For this, we integrate the so-called personal digital assistants into the vehicle, in a way that they really create a benefit for the driver. At the CES, we are demonstrating our digital companion, which guides the user for example through technical warnings in a natural dialogue and uses artificial intelligence to learn from the user behaviour and make the right suggestions. The assistant we are using here is Alexa.

We understand that Continental is supplying Lincoln with its HUD with digital micro mirror device technology to allow drivers to communicate even better with their cars. Does this bring augmented reality HUDs closer to the market?

The digital micro mirror device head-up display is an important step in the direction of augmented reality head-up displays as it allows to generate a large image with bright colours in front of the driver, which appears as if hovering several meters in front of the vehicle. This kind of large projection is one building block for augmented reality head-up displays.

LiDAR is said to be the most important of the sensor suite that enables the different levels of driver autonomy. Yet one of the challenges for manufacturers with this type of sensor, in particular, is to find reliability and robustness along with economic viability.  How does your solution address this?

Continental is one of the only Tier 1 companies on the planet to own the Intellectual Property for 2D, radar and 3D Flash LiDAR (all solid-state technologies). Concept systems using those technologies for development purposes cost money. As Continental prepares its first generation of automotive grade solid state Flash LiDAR, those costs will drop precipitously.

It is said that the LiDAR is one of most expensive items. What's your view and how can the cost tumble? 

As a solid state semiconductor based technology, Continental's 3D Flash LiDAR sensors will provide tremendous value-add at a reasonable cost.

How will the autonomous car change the look and feel of the cockpit?

The most important factor, when thinking about the cockpit of automated vehicles, is trust.

The most important factor, when thinking about the cockpit of automated vehicles, is trust. As the role of the driver is changing from operator to observer or passenger, he needs to have the right amount of trust in his vehicle.

Especially on the road towards autonomous vehicles, the driver will need to fulfil certain tasks. For example, highly automated vehicles will only drive themselves in certain scenarios on the highway. This requires a dedicated interior and HMI concept, which allows the vehicle for example via an interior camera, to know the driver's state and to get into a dialogue with the driver via a multimodal HMI using speech, displays, haptic elements, etc. Only then, the vehicle and driver can share the driving responsibility in a trustworthy way.

For completely autonomous vehicles the tasks are different and range from concepts that paint the interior of premium vehicles as a second living room to practical, resistant and durable interiors for robo-taxis. In any case, there will still be a need for the vehicle to monitor the state of the passengers and to stay in a dialogue with the passengers.

In terms of technologies, either developed in-house or through investments, does Continental have everything it needs today in order to help develop a Level 5 car?

We don't want to develop a Level 5 car. Our business model is that of the technology supplier, and that's what we're concentrating on. In the field of driverless vehicles too, we operate our own test fleet solely with the aim of testing our new developments in the most efficient and reliable way possible under real conditions. These vehicles represent an invaluable development platform for us. As a first step, our development platform for self-driving cars (CUbE – Continental Urban Mobility Experience) focuses on environment recording and on software to substitute for the driver actions familiar to us today At present, sensors incorporate radar, cameras and V2X-communication, which will be supplemented by further sensors such as LiDAR. Intelligent materials such as seat/floor coverings, interior cameras and an LED light strip are integrated into the interior. For communication with crossing pedestrians, an outer display is installed. To ensure good and reliable contact with the road, CUbE operates on Continental EcoContact tyres.