Continental's contribution to the self-driving future:
Continental AG, commonly known as Continental, is a leading automotive parts production company. Based in Hannover, Germany it was founded in 1871 as a rubber manufacturer (and is still most known for its tires), but over the years has indulged in brake systems, interior electronics, automotive safety, powertrain and chassis components.
Behind the scenes the parts manufacturer has expressing its dominance in the field of autonomous driving over the past decade. Continental has been road testing self-driving hardware for years and among its buyers we find companies like Google, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The company has partnerships with many more big players in the field. Lastly Continental has been working on connecting vehicle to vehicle communication (V2X) to satellite positioning (GPS) in project eHorizon. The Continental self-driving car is in the making.
“Searching for that specific auto part? Whether you need to replace brakes, a muffler, filter or any other specific car part, Continental Auto Group will be able to help you locate it.” The website’s introductory slogan says it all: Continental produces all the car parts you are possibly looking for.
Even if you are an autonomous car manufacturer the German conglomerate will help you out with some goodies. Only the fact that they have an unbranded news site on autonomous driving, www.2025ad.com, shows their commitment to the field. Continental distributes motion sensors or camera monitoring systems and provides EOMs with electronics for advanced driver-assistance systems like automatic emergency braking and auto-steering. Continental comes up with high-tech divergent ideas like tires with a sidewall torsion sensor system, which transmit data on road and weather conditions, but also on its deformation, which comes in pretty in handy when measuring a perfect acceleration, brake or a curve.
One of the last noteworthy Continental parts to come out (but which they initially acquired from a company named Advanced Scientific Concepts) was a high-resolution 3D Flash LIDAR-radar. Except for Velodyne, there are not many car connected companies producing or selling Lidar radars, so for Continental this is a big step up the driverless ladder. Continental’s radar provides both real-time machine vision as well as environmental mapping functions, both in day or night time and in adverse weather conditions. The radar was implemented by for example Volkswagen. Another famous Continental product is the M2XPro communication unit, but more on this in the last paragraph.
Amongst the self-driving parts buyers list we find some big names. The first one is Google. Already in 2013 Google, IBM and Continental formed an alliance to develop autonomous driving, where Continental became the official supplier of Google’s driverless projects. Many more came before or followed. Continental’s parts helped build Mercedes’ Distronic Plus and BMW’s automatic parking. Even Tesla would have placed an order here and there (unofficial).
To build (and test) all those sensors and radars or steering assists and automatic distance controls, Continental flocked a small colony of self-driving project cars. Even more. In December 2012 Continental became the first automotive supplier to get approval from the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles to test autonomous vehicles on the state’s public roads. In that year Continental used an altered Volkswagen Passat and later in 2013 they added a Chrysler 300 to the group. Although the flock is not intended for autonomous operation at all times (because the main purpose is to test Continental’s ADAS technology) the vehicle drive 90% in autonomous mode. Like their biggest competitor Bosch, today the company has Continental self-driving car test projects in the US, Germany and Japan.
And just like biggest competitor Bosch, both are focusing on mapping, not something you would associate with a parts supplier.. Autonomous driving mixes two types of positioning. First there is short distance: inter-car lengths or lane partition, which is taken care of by sensors, cameras or vehicle-2-vehicle communication. Then there is the bigger picture: roads, blocks, highways and ‘traffic’, taken care of by Lidar, vehicle-2-Everything communication and in the largest sense possible by satellite communication. Long and short have to work together seamlessly for self-driving cars to function and Continental is contributing.
The parts manufacturer has linked alliances with IBM and network specialist Cisco Systems, to work together on V2X communication and with biggest GPS mapping provider in the world, Here. Continental’s biggest contribution is eHorizon, which integrates topographical map data with sensor data. It has existed since 2006 when Continental sold the solution to BMW, making the car automatically adaptive for future events, like an uphill incline after the corner, where eHorizon will automatically adapt the engine and transmission management. Later Continental released the M2XPro, making the solution integrable into any vehicle, possibly making it the driverless heart of the future. Therefor some barriers have to be broken, like permanent real-time connectivity to the cloud or big data storage.