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  1. Interview
January 5, 2022

CES: Continental sets out the CASE for future mobility

On Day 1 of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Tamara Snow, Head of Research and Advanced Engineering, North America, Continental Automotive, explains why UX is the new horsepower.

By Matthew Beecham

Following weeks of uncertainty and key exhibitors making last-minute decisions to suspend their on-site activity, including Continental, the show is now underway. This is the first of a series of CES interviews with key suppliers showcasing their latest innovations either on the ground in Vegas or virtually.

What is the headline message that Continental is putting out at this year’s CES?

Our headline for CES 2022 is: Safe. Connected. Convenient. We drive the future of mobility. What’s behind this? For over 150 years Continental has continuously revolutionized how we move. Specifically offering safer, more efficient, intelligent, and affordable solutions for vehicles, machines, traffic, and transportation.

Now, at CES 2022, we are providing a glimpse into what future mobility will look like. It will not just be a means of movement – it will make for an even more essential part of our lives. We’re on the road and yet we feel at home. We are electrified and always on. We enjoy the freedom of individual mobility while embracing sustainability. We don’t just drive vehicles, we experience them. And when the autopilot takes over, we know its maturity will again help us make further strides in safety. That’s what we have in mind when we say: Safe. Connected. Convenient. We drive the future of mobility.

As the automotive industry shifts toward higher levels of driver autonomy, what are the opportunities for Continental?

The autonomous mobility market will significantly grow in the next years. Just from 2018 to 2020, we received orders totalling more than €9 billion from car manufacturers worldwide. This shows that in the field of driver assistance and automated driving systems business we already have a strong position which we are expanding substantially while quickly positioning ourselves as a top player in the autonomous mobility market. We are strengthening our product portfolio continuously and we are developing new technologies to offer customers more solutions and services at the systems level. At the same time, we are more open to large-scale cooperation with technology partners and startup companies, like e.g., Apex.AI, AEye and Horizon Robotics.

We offer leading technologies, such as radar, lidar and camera and offer full-stack automotive-grade systems for Level 2+ up to Level 4 automated and autonomous driving applications. As the degree of automation of vehicles will continue to increase in the coming years and autonomous driving will become suitable for mass use. From 2025, level 3 and level 4 systems will be available to the mass market at an affordable cost.

The traffic of the future is highly complex. Data management and artificial intelligence will play an important role in autonomous mobility. Can you explain this connection to us in more detail and what Continental is doing in this realm?

Cars already generate large volumes of data. Mobility concepts such as autonomous driving are accelerating this development. This requires efficient data management, as we collect petabytes of relevant data during development. At the same time, the continuously increasing amount of data increases the quality of driver assistance functions by constantly improving the functional software.

Advanced driver assistance systems use AI to make decisions, assist the driver and ultimately operate autonomously. However, as systems become more complex, traditional software development and machine learning methods are reaching their limits. Deep learning and simulations have become fundamental methods in the development of AI-based solutions to understand the high-level complexity of our environment.

To give you an example: The recorded real journeys of our fleet of test vehicles are saved and can then be used for virtual run throughs again and again with new software versions. That results in AI models that are so extensive and detailed that they can represent any traffic situation imaginable. Here, we rely on artificial intelligence and massive computing power to develop systems for autonomous driving. AI improves driver assistance systems, makes mobility smarter as well as safer, and accelerates the development of systems for autonomous driving. To this end, Continental and NVIDIA established a high-performance computing cluster based on the NVIDIA DGX AI system to boost development performance in the field of autonomous driving.

There is a lot of hype around Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) communication and the possibilities for safer roadways and more efficient travel. What’s your view on the realistic possibilities?

We do see that more and more vehicles are connected and can exchange information with each other, or other road users. This helps to prevent accidents as vehicles can warn each other and inform about potential hazards even if they are of the driver’s line of sight. Nevertheless, it will take time until enough vehicles can speak to each other and we can exploit the full benefit of V2X Communication. With Collective Perception Messages we add information from new V2X message standards to enable cars and drivers to see through the eyes of others. With our award-winning V2X solution using Collective Perception, a vehicle leverages information from other vehicles’ sensors and infrastructure sensors to enhance safety in non-line-of-sight situations. This is significant because of the benefit to vulnerable road users who, according to the World Health Organization, represent more than 50% of all worldwide traffic fatalities — including pedestrians, animals, bicyclists, scooters, skateboarders, and motorcyclists.

To what extent can we expect to see more curved, OLED and dual displays in car cockpits?

The trend is quite clear: With digitalization, User Experience is becoming ever more important for drivers and passengers and as a result displays in vehicles are becoming larger, more user friendly and better in quality. We do not only see this development in the premium segment. In fact, we see integrated display solutions in volume models today and our first orders for a pillar-to-pillar display solution and an OELD-display are for large volume vehicles. Additionally, we are also introducing new display technologies in the market, which help to reduce driver distraction but add to stunning cockpit design at the same time. At CES, we are showcasing for the first time our switchable privacy display. With this technology, passengers can engage with multimedia content, which stays invisible to the driver. A combination of two unique backlight units with dedicated illumination profiles for public and private mode allows for multiple viewing options. In private mode, a strongly directed backlight makes content fully visible only from the passenger viewing angle.

Our ShyTech display restores simplicity and enhances safety without compromising on advanced functions. Control surfaces made of buttons, lights and switches are hidden to integrate with the display in a brand-new way. While the full range of control options is always there for a user, only relevant content is visible. If not needed, the display becomes invisible and appears as a surface made from wood, leather, or carbon.

We understand that head-up displays and augmented reality HUD offer offers huge possibilities in autonomous vehicles. Could you tell us what is Continental is doing here?

Head-up Displays generally help reduce driver distraction as they project important information such as speed or turn-by-turn navigation directly in the drivers’ field of view, so they can keep their eyes on the road. With the augmented reality head-up display we even increase this effect as we overlay the physical world in front of the driver with virtual information. We can for example project navigation information such as a turning-arrow directly on the respective lane and make the information more intuitive for the driver to process. We can also make visible, what the sensors from the advanced driver assistance systems of a vehicle are detecting and what the vehicle is reacting to. This helps drivers to build trust in the abilities of their vehicles. This is especially important on the path to autonomous driving when drivers still need to be able to take over control of the vehicle.

We are moving away from physically having to drive cars and towards the ‘passenger economy’, meaning significant free time in the car. How is that affecting Continental’s developments in infotainment technology? And what does this mean for the user experience?

User experience is the new horsepower. Connectivity, infotainment features and functions, as well as human-machine interaction design are already decisive factors for car buyers. With the electrification of the drivetrain and automated driving, this trend is increasing drastically. The cockpit is becoming a new living space and vehicles turn into smartphones on wheels. For us, this leads to a profound transformation of products, processes, and business models. Besides the ever-growing importance of displays, the electric/electronic architecture of vehicles is changing towards server-based architectures, where a handful of high-performance computers and zone control units are integrating the computing power of up to 100 traditionally distributed electronic control units per vehicle. This reduces complexity and allows for updatable and upgradeable vehicles. This aspect also demonstrates that the focus in the automotive industry is shifting from hardware to software. To adapt to the evolution of the software-defined vehicle, we have transformed the way we develop and set up our projects. Collaboration between OEMs and suppliers are more closely aligned, and our business models are likewise moving towards software-driven value streams.

2021 was another memorable year for everyone and for all sorts of reasons. We had a bumpy recovery from the worst of the Covid pandemic, but the automotive industry was also hammered by a shortage of semiconductor parts. In your business, what stands out as the biggest challenges you faced this year?

2021 has been a challenging year for the entire automotive industry.  The disruptions caused by the Coronavirus crisis have caused extreme volatility in the automotive industry. The situation remains very dynamic. The delivery bottlenecks from the semiconductor industry have been continuing through 2021 and we do not even expect a large increase in capacity before 2023.

Additionally, the profound structural transformation in the mobility industry has also led us at Continental to reorganize our setup. The new structure especially reduces complexity and increases speed and transparency for our automotive business. By this, we will be able to exploit the full potential of our strategy.

How are you feeling about 2022 – both in terms of business prospects and more generally?

We expect 2022 to be another challenging year for everybody. COVID-19 is still a big concern around the globe, and we continue to make the health and well-being of our employees and their families a top priority. Looking at the semiconductor crisis, we expect the supply situation to improve over the coming months but generally, the situation will continue to be critical in 2022.

On a more positive note, we see that market researchers, expect the production of passenger vehicles and light trucks to increase significantly. The estimates suggest about 83 million vehicles in 2022 that’s an increase of 9% in comparison to 2021.

 

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