Conti partnering with BMW to automate motorway driving
Automotive supplier Continental has already conducted trials with a ‘driverless car’ in the US, and now the firm will further its work in this field through a research partnership with the BMW Group. Under this arrangement, the two German companies will pool their development capacities to define the long-term prerequisites for introducing highly automated driving on European motorways.
In January 2013, Conti and BMW signed an agreement to jointly develop an electronic co-pilot for this purpose. The overriding aim of the research partnership is to pave the way to highly automated driving functions beyond the year 2020. “Automated driving is a key element in future mobility. It will significantly enhance safety, comfort and efficiency on the roads,” said Dr. Elmar Degenhart, chairman of Continental’s Executive Board. “In collaboration with BMW Group, we will work out an overarching technical concept that enables highly automated freeway driving in a way that is safe, attractive, and affordable for end customers.
“We are enriching the project with our systems expertise in the areas of vehicle safety, driver information, and powertrain technology,” Degenhart added. “The joint research project with BMW Group addresses the enormous need for the kind of R&D required to realise the vision of automated driving. After all, driving cannot be automated overnight. It is, much more, a gradual process, stretching out over a period of over ten years.”
According to the Continental/BMW plan, vehicle automation is set to be rolled out in stages, starting with partially automated driving from 2016, high levels of automation from 2020 and – ultimately – fully automated systems available from 2025. The cooperative project between the two companies runs through to the end of 2014. Several prototype test vehicles equipped for automated driving are set to be built in the course of these two years. The research prototypes will then be made available to a select team of trained test participants. Employing close-to-production technology, testing will involve analysing highly automated driving functions both on Germany’s autobahn network and on motorways in other European countries. The tests will cover all the challenges motorways pose, such as junctions, toll booths and road works.
As research partner, Continental will make key contributions in several areas of the project; for example, the company will provide the driving environment sensor systems needed to operate the test vehicles. The aim is to create a high-performance model of the vehicle environment. This will involve the use of both long-range radar and camera systems already in series production at Continental.
To ensure the test fleet operates without incident al all times, Continental will develop a safety architecture that allows for the vehicles’ stable operation even if malfunctions occur. In addition to helping with the test vehicles’ construction, the company will play a key role in defining both the functional and the electrical/electronic architecture (E/E architecture). Continental will be involved in the development of functions and in conducting the necessary back-end research under BMW Group’s guidance.
Today, more than 1,300 specialists at Continental are already working on the basics of automated driving. They deal specifically with driver assistance systems, such as adaptive cruise control and emergency brake assistance. These make use of sophisticated technology like cameras and infrared and radar systems to record the vehicle environment in various driving situations, thereby alerting, assisting, and relieving the driver.
Since its first production project for the Mercedes S-Class in 1999, Continental has engaged in more than 100 driver assistance systems projects for automotive manufacturers around the world. The company also participated in the EU research project HAVEit in 2011, developing a highly automated assist system for driving in traffic jams and around road works. The project provided an example of technology suitable for a complex traffic scenario. Alongside its involvement in other research projects, such as AKTIV and the DARPA Urban Challenge, the company completed a two-week endurance test with already close-to-production technology in the US state of Nevada in early 2012. The company’s test vehicle has driven more than 15,000 miles on public roads there.