Following Google’s lead in testing autonomous vehicles in California and Nevada, Continental has also begin doing so in Nevada.
As Google did earlier last year also, automotive supplier Continental received Nevada’s “Autonomous Vehicle Testing License” – a state approval from the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to test automated driving on the state’s public roads.
Continental’s testing license is for the company’s highly automated vehicle, and represents the first license granted by the Nevada DMV to an automotive supplier.
“At Continental, we continue to invest in research and development for next generation technologies – such as our highly automated vehicle – that will drive us toward a safer, more efficient and more comfortable future,” said Dr. Elmar Degenhart, chairman of the executive board of Continental. “As a company, Continental’s strategy is clearly focused on making this type of future technology a reality. It’s clear to us that automated driving will be a key element in the mobility of the future. As a system supplier, we are perfectly positioned to develop and launch series production of solutions for partially automated systems for our customers by 2016. We will be able to develop the first applications for highly and ultimately fully automated driving, even at higher speeds and in more complex driving situations, ready for production by 2020 or 2025.”
After completing driving demonstrations on Dec. 18 in Carson City, Nev., the DMV’s Autonomous Review Committee approved Continental’s safety plans, employee training, system functions and accident reporting mechanisms.
Following these approvals, Continental will receive its testing license and red license plate featuring an infinity sign to represent the car of the future.
The plate is designed to be easily recognized by law enforcement and the public at large. This license plate will only be used for licensed test vehicles for automated driving.
“This vehicle demonstrates what modern technology can do to provide a safer, more comfortable drive. Earning this license represents an important intermediate step towards automated driving for Continental,” said Dr. Peter Rieth, head of Systems & Technology in Continental’s Chassis & Safety Division. “Continuing our research and testing in the most challenging environment – public roads – will allow us to continue to assess and develop our highly automated vehicle.”
Continental says its current highly automated vehicle is designed to always have a driver monitoring the vehicle behind the wheel, unlike a completely driverless vehicle.
The automated vehicle can accommodate, according to Continental, multiple driving scenarios. Utilizing four short-range radar sensors (two at the front, two at the rear), one long-range radar and a stereo camera, the vehicle is capable of cruising down an open freeway as well as negotiating heavy rush-hour traffic.
Taking advantage of Continental’s sensor fusion technology as part of the ContiGuard safety concept, the vehicle is able to track all objects as they enter into the sensors’ field of view. The object information is then processed and passed on to the control unit (Continental Motion Domain Controller) to control the vehicle’s longitudinal and lateral motion via signals to the engine, the brakes and the steering system.
The equipment in Continental’s highly automated vehicle differs from the customized sensors and tailor-made actuators in other automated vehicles. The vehicle, which has already logged more than 15,000 test miles (24,000 kilometers), is built primarily with equipment that is already available in series production.
Continental says its short term goal is to relieve the driver of tedious and monotonous activities, such as driving on highways with minimal traffic or in low-speed situations like traffic jams.
Although the concept of complete fully automated driving is valid, it is not yet fully viable, according to Continental. Continental’s highly automated vehicle, however, is seen by the company as an intermediate step toward fully automated driving.
Continental’s vehicle brings Continental closer to achieving the company’s Vision Zero – the goal of reaching zero accidents and zero fatalities on the roadways. Continental will continue real world evaluations with this vehicle.
Continental expects that, starting in 2016, partially automated systems may be assisting drivers in “stop & go” situations on the freeway at low speeds of up to 19 mph.
“Over the last few weeks, we on the Executive Board have considered the strategic and budget planning for our five divisions for the coming year in great detail. For our automotive divisions, this planning includes all of the necessary elements that need to be implemented step-by-step across the board so that fully-automated driving becomes reality by 2025,” said Dr. Elmar Degenhart, chairman of the Executive Board of Continental.
According to Continental, with suitable systems on board, drivers will in the future be able to decide whether to do the driving themselves or to let the vehicle take control. With the market launch of highly automated vehicles by 2020, drivers will be able to concentrate on other activities, such as reading the latest headlines on the Internet. This will give drivers much more freedom.
At the same time, an automatically controlled vehicle will be even safer thanks to the increased interaction with itself and its environment. Furthermore, the energy management and driving characteristics of the vehicle will be optimized on the basis of a real-time data concept, thereby enabling more energy-efficient driving.
Today, more than 1,250 specialists at Continental are working on the basics of automated driving. They are working specifically on driver assistance systems, such as adaptive cruise control and emergency brake assistance, which employ sophisticated technology to record the vehicle environment using a camera, infrared, and radar in various driving situations and therefore to warn, support, and relieve the driver.
While Continental expects to launch autonomous vehicles progressively in 2016, 2020 and fully autonomous in 2025, legislation is decisive when it comes to actual market launch.
“The basic technical prerequisite for the implementation of automated driving is system reliability. Road safety of the highest degree is therefore the essential foundation on which automated driving must be based,” explained Degenhart. In concrete terms, this calls for fail-safe architecture that keeps the vehicle in a safe state in the event of a fault. However, the time frame for development of this necessary safety architecture will not be the sole factor that determines the timing of market launch: “Legislative bodies will take the major decisions as to when and how automated vehicles will be introduced onto the market, and the required legal framework still needs to be drawn up,” added Degenhart.