'Technology and its multiplier effect are driving business transformations and customer experiences’: Latha Chembrakalam

Technical Centre India is one of Continental’s largest research and development centres in the world, and as a 'Centre of Competence' it also develops customised products for the BRIC countries. Latha Chembrakalam, Vice President, Head of Technical Centre India, Continental Automotive India speaks with Autocar Professional.

By Mayank Dhingra & Amit Mohile calendar 27 Jan 2023 Views icon12179 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
'Technology and its multiplier effect are driving business transformations and customer experiences’: Latha Chembrakalam

In November 2022, Continental Automotive India inaugurated its 1 million sq-ft state-of-the-art tech campus at Electronic City Phase II in Bengaluru. The facility can house over 6,500 people and the campus brings together the broad range of Continental’s technology capabilities in a vibrant, collaborative environment designed to accommodate the needs of future work. The set-up houses hi-tech software, hardware, and vehicle test facilities for R&D and a plethora of training centres, with each floor equipped with multiple collaboration areas.

How will the new Tech Centre enhance Continental's research and development activities in India?
Technical Centre India is one of Continental’s largest research and development facilities across the world. With over 4,000 engineers, it consists of the best talent pool.

For us, research and development are one of the values of the company and with our localisation policy, we aim to develop technologies that meet the needs and demands of the region. TCI focuses on developing technologies for the global market and the expertise available also contributes to innovating for emerging markets.

Our engineers are constantly innovating and have the capability to develop advanced technologies and software for autonomous mobility which has become a critical component to providing a comprehensive consumer experience, and cutting-edge display systems like panel-to-panel display screens that entertain passengers while ensuring the driver’s safety. We have also shifted our focus towards developing advanced safety technologies for both passenger cars and two-wheelers.

As the amount of software is increasing in today’s vehicles, ensuring the vehicle’s safety from cyberattacks is becoming increasingly important. Therefore, cybersecurity is one of the major focus areas of our R&D Centre and is an integral part of many projects that we are working on. Our cybersecurity team is constantly developing technologies to avert known as well as predicted attacks.

What are some of the key equipment and capabilities at this unit?
Technical Centre India creates cutting-edge software 'Technology and its multiplier effect are driving business transformations and customer experiences’ and technological solutions for business areas such as autonomous mobility, architecture and networking, safety and motion, smart mobility, and user experience, among others.

The engineers at TCI contribute to the development of advanced technology for global customers and partly for the Indian market too. We have allotted different teams that cater to the needs of different markets.

The team responsible for a specific market remains in touch with the local teams as well as the customers at different locations across the world. This helps the engineers at TCI to get an idea about the demands of the customers from specific global markets and accordingly work towards innovating new technology suitable for that market.

Over the past few years, Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) have been gaining prominence in the global automotive sector. TCI has been instrumental in developing some of the key ADAS technologies like Transparent Hood, ARS 540 and AD HPC. Apart from this, we have developed advanced safety technologies such as one-channel ABS solutions for 2-wheelers.

The R&D Centre is quickly emerging as a “Centre of Competence” for two-wheeler markets and customised products for the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries by adding value with its understanding of the customers. To further strengthen the safety architecture, we have also developed technologies like eCall which helps in reducing the fatality rate caused due to road accidents. In the case of a serious road accident, an eCall can be generated either manually by vehicle occupants by pressing an SOS button inside the car or automatically by activation of in-vehicle sensors.

We also recently introduced the ShyTech displays, a revolutionary dashboard innovation where the in-vehicle display is visible when necessary and remains invisible when not in use, without distracting the driver. This further ensures the safety of the passengers. Technologies like Smart Keys have entered the market and are gradually replacing physical keys. Smartphones can now be used to operate a vehicle, adding to the convenience factor.

Through all these innovations, our main aim is to offer comfort and convenience to our customers and importantly ensure their safety.

Continental Tech Centre in India

  • Continental’s largest research and development facility across the world employs over 4000 engineers.
  • Cybersecurity is one of the major focus areas.
  • TCI has been instrumental in developing some of the key ADAS technologies like Transparent Hood, ARS 540 and AD HPC.
  • The R&D centre has emerged as a Centre of Competence for twowheeler markets and customised products for the BRIC countries.

What are the major areas where TCI is innovating and are there patents coming out of this centre? Can you share some examples?
As the automotive industry is transforming, customers’ expectations are also changing as they want their vehicles to provide them with safety, comfort, and technology. Keeping this in mind, TCI is innovating technologies that cater to the various needs of different markets. At TCI, we are working on developing software for radar and cameras that aid several driver-assistance features and functions such as the surround view system, adaptive cruise control, emergency brake assist, and lane change assist, among others.

Apart from this, we also contribute to the development of integrated active and passive safety technologies that go a long way in saving lives along with products for enhanced vehicle dynamics. All of the aforementioned contribute to Continental’s goal of achieving Vision Zero, a future with zero fatalities, zero injuries, and zero crashes. Considering that individual control units are being replaced by powerful servers, we have seen HighPerformance Computers (HPCs) taking center stage and Continental is constantly innovating in this space.

The HPC is a scalable, flexible high-performance platform for functions and services that will play a vital role in future mobility architectures. Moving to the aesthetics of cockpit systems, the old analog clusters are being phased out in favor of large, panel-to-panel display screens. The company is working on technologies and screens that will entertain passengers while ensuring the safety of the driver. Further, smart keys are replacing physical keys and we are progressing into an era where mobile phones can be used to operate vehicles.

TCI is a Global Software Center for Excellence, and we continue to develop competencies in areas like Artificial Intelligence, Cloud, Machine Learning and Cyber Security to prepare for the future of mobility.

What opportunities does Continental see in terms of innovating for the e-mobility space in India?
The Electric Vehicle (EV) market in India is still growing and it will take some time for them to come on par with ICE vehicles. As the future of the automotive industry is electric and automated, many traditional OEMs have started investing in the e-mobility space in India.

As architecture transforms, vehicles are now being termed personal spaces. Though a vehicle’s battery and powertrain are critical components, an EV is more than just that. The introduction of connected technologies adds a completely new dimension to the transformation. Continental is working on a variety of technologies that will complement certain systems prevalent in EVs.

We are developing over-the-air update solutions that have the capability of updating everything from the infotainment systems to the powertrain. Further, our acquisition of Argus Cyber Security in 2017 will ensure secure data channels for in-car and interplatform connectivity via its devices. Continental recently collaborated with Volkswagen, supplying key automotive components in its latest EV variants, the ID. 3 and ID. 4, which offer longer ranges, plenty of space, dynamic handling, and next-generation digital connectivity.

We are also constantly working on upgrading our HPCs. Through our HPCs, regular security updates as well as adaptations and improvements relating to operability, performance, and infotainment can be installed with ease. We strive to offer a completely new digital user experience to our customers and provide them with the latest updates even years after the purchase of their vehicles.

We are currently working on developing cross-domain HPCs for hybrid and electric vehicles. Many operations like data exchange, over-the-air updates, and thermal management as well as accessing doors and windows can be controlled with the latest generation of HPCs.

Auto R&D sites in India continue to co-develop competencies in areas like AI, Cloud, machine learning and cyber security applications for the future of mobility with their foreign counterparts.

Are you bullish about India's software talent in developing solutions for future mobility problems?
India is a growing automotive hub and is the fourth-largest automotive industry in the world. India has now become an attractive destination for doing business and investing in the region for foreign organisations.

Multinational companies are looking at the immense opportunities that India as a country has to offer in terms of policies, geographical advantage, skilled resources, young population, start-up culture, and mindset. India has some of the renowned and the most prestigious universities and institutions that help prepare individuals with relevant skill sets. India has become the ideal choice for big companies to set up their R&D centers as the Indian population is English speaking and the people are equipped with STEM skills along with competency in coding.

With software now being used across industries, the lines between them have blurred. With the increase in demand for connected vehicles and autonomous mobility, software has emerged as a critical component of the automotive industry.

What is driving automotive companies to Bengaluru to open their tech centres?
Karnataka, particularly Bengaluru, has long been known for its software and IT industries, being monikered the Silicon Valley of the East. The majority of MNCs and large firms have established their offices in the city. This attracts talent not only from Bengaluru but also from across various cities. With the increased demand for connected vehicles and autonomous mobility, software has emerged as a critical component in the automotive industry.

 Many new start-ups are now being established in Karnataka because people in the state have relevant skills in addition to STEM skills. These start-ups are collaborating directly with the already established multinational corporations, which are expanding growth opportunities in the area. The number of industries in Bengaluru is growing as more opportunities for collaboration emerge.

Many new EV manufacturers, automotive manufacturers, and technology companies have entered the state over the years. Bengaluru is gradually becoming a tech and automotive hub as more and more automakers are establishing their operations in the city.

Advanced robotics, mechatronics are among many technologies that are being used in automotive R&D centres in India for the development of various domestic and global products and solutions.

Where do you see India five years down the line in terms of contribution to global innovation in the automotive sector?
India is the fourth largest automotive hub in the world and many Indian automotive manufacturers are developing the latest technologies according to the needs and demands of the local market. Many automotive companies are setting up their Research and Development centers in India because of the availability of the optimum talent pool.

Most of the population from the region are equipped with linguistic skills and STEM skills along with their proficiency in coding. As India has all the skills and resources that are required, in the next 5 years we will see the country contributing heavily to global innovation, and this is only going to increase rapidly with time. We have been contributing to the global market and have specific teams that cater to specific markets. The team responsible for a specific market remains in touch with the local teams from that location and interacts directly with the customers, understanding their needs and requirements.

The engineers at TCI have been developing some of the most sophisticated technologies like Transparent Hood, ARS 540 and AD HPC for the global markets. We have also introduced advanced display solutions like ShyTech Displays, which is a revolutionary dashboard innovation. As mentioned earlier, it remains invisible when not in use and appears only when required. It reduces the amount of unnecessary information while driving, thus improving the concentration of the driver. Apart from this, we also introduced the Switchable Privacy Display which enables the front passengers to use multimedia content without distracting the driver from the road.

Our focus is to offer safety, comfort, and convenience to our customers, thus transforming the in-vehicle experience. As India has all the skills and resources that are required, in the next 5 years we will see the country contributing heavily to global innovation, and this is only going to increase rapidly with time. Soon, India will become a hub for developing such technologies.

Do you see the automotive revenue pool significantly increasing and diversifying towards on-demand mobility services? What is your opinion on the impact of data-driven services in the automotive value chain?
The automotive industry is transforming, and it is heading in the direction where it will further diversify. Mobility as a service has become a possibility. While it will not have an immediate impact, repercussions will be witnessed in the long run. Continental has been innovating in this space and has, for this purpose, collaborated with Amazon Web Services (AWS) in 2021.

AWS serves as the preferred cloud provider to develop Continental Automotive Edge (CAEdge), a modular hardware and software platform that connects the vehicle to the cloud and features a virtual workbench offering numerous options to develop, supply, and maintain software-intensive system functions. This allows the driver to integrate the functions they want in the future throughout the life of their vehicle by downloading quick and easy software updates. It provides future vehicle manufacturers and partners with a software-intensive architecture development environment that they can use to implement software, sensor, and big data solutions in a fraction of the time previously required.

Now, vehicle software can be developed, tested, and deployed directly to vehicles in a more efficient and secure manner.

How do you see the global auto industry managing competition coming in from pure technology players like Google, Microsoft, and start-ups to disrupt this market with low-cost-effective solutions?
We do not consider them to be a threat that will cause a disruption, but we see it as an opportunity to come together and provide solutions to the problems. As mentioned previously, Continental has collaborated with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to work together on a similar platform. It is up to the company on how to identify an opportunity by capitalising it rather than identifying a corporation as a threat.

As India is brimming with innovative solutions, which young auto tech companies would you also look at acquiring or taking a strategic stake in emerging startups or even co-opting with them?
Continental is not actively pushing for collaborations currently but there is always a possibility. In 2017, Continental launched Co-pace to enhance its relationship with the start-up ecosystem around the world in a structured manner. It generates value for both the start-up as well as for Continental. Co-pace serves as a catalyst for new technologies and business models between external partners and Continental. There is also the added benefit of facilitating many of Continental’s new product directions. To investigate and create new contexts for innovation, we form partnerships with entrepreneurs and thought leaders. Co-pace identifies start-ups with technology and business models that can integrate with Continental’s applications and products, as well as thought leaders who can collaborate in innovative ways across an eclectic range of ecosystems. 

This interview was first published in Autocar Professional's January 15, 2023 issue.

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