LAS VEGAS — Continental Automotive, an old-line tire company, is among a host of car suppliers at the Consumer Electronics Show, trying to get traction in automated driving. Company executives here this week told a packed media audience that, perhaps unlike some competitors, Continental has the manpower, the technical talent and the sense of mission necessary to make the transition.
As Kurt Lehmann, first Corporate Technology Officer, boasted, "We're bigger than all the other OEMs. Engineering-wise, we're bigger than almost everybody."
Lehmann noted that Continental is a Frankfurt-based company of 220,000 employees, 30,000 of them engineers, with a major footprint in Europe, the United States and China.
As emphasized 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, a leader in holographic projection technology, to vastly expand its market penetration in cars with different technologies, especially in the use of artificial intelligence.
As emphasized by Lehmann, the thrust of this mighty shift from tires to advance automotive electronics is to make driving safer for people, cleaner for the environment and "socially responsible."
As Lehmann capsulized the company's mission: "Saving babies, saving trees, being responsible."
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 artificial intelligence (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 3-D lidar. He said this technology 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 unique "smart tire" technology.
"Lidar is a picture of the environment. The tire system is a picture of the condition of the road," said Lehmann. "Combine lidar, radar and tire 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 our data across many brands" while complying "100 percent" 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."
-- David Benjamin, freelance writer for EE Times.