German technology major Continental has begun series production of technologies such as ABS, radar and redundant brake system for robo-taxis which are billed to become an important part of mobility in urban centres, in developed economies, helping to reduce traffic congestion and increase efficiency.
Driverless transport systems of this kind are still rare exceptions on roads today. Small autonomous shuttle buses with room for several passengers – which also qualify as robo-taxis – have driven on short, straightforward public routes during pilot projects and in designated areas at airports, hospitals, universities, and exhibition grounds. The technology that enables these innovative vehicles without steering wheels or pedals to move independently, electrically, and safely is almost entirely available today.
Continental’s researchers and developers in Europe, North America and Asia are working to make proven series production technologies suitable for use in robo-taxis. This year, Continental’s technology for driverless vehicles will be in production for the first time in French company EasyMile’s EZ10 autonomous shuttle. Continental has held a stake in this driverless vehicle manufacturer since 2017.
The driverless CUbE shuttle is helping get a range of Continental technologies such as brake systems and surroundings sensors market-ready so that they can be used in the series production of robo-taxis.
CUbE to the future
“The technological building blocks that enable robo-taxis to operate are available in principle and have been tried and tested in practice. However, we now have to intelligently, safely, and efficiently put them together to form an overall picture,” said Andree Hohm, Director of Driverless Mobility at Continental.
The central development platform for this work is the CUbE, a small driverless shuttle based on the EZ10 platform. The aim is not to develop the CUbE into a production vehicle, but to get a range of Continental technologies, such as brake systems and surroundings sensors market-ready so that they can be used in the series production of robo-taxis.
For a robo-taxi to drive autonomously, it must first detect its surroundings reliably, accurately, and completely. It does this using vehicle surroundings sensors such as cameras, radar, and lasers. With the aid of the CUbE, Continental has developed a production-ready radar system especially for driverless vehicles. The vehicle can generate a 360-degree image of its environment by combining the data from different sensor technologies. This, in turn, ensures redundancy and a higher level of accuracy not previously achieved, because radar systems function independent of visibility conditions and can even see through objects such as parked cars and detect the street corner behind them.
Continental’s radar sensor, which will be used in the EZ10 autonomous shuttle from EasyMile later this year, detects the vehicle’s environment within a radius of up to 200 metres. The vehicle is equipped with a total of seven radar sensors, as well as laser sensors and cameras. This allows the location to be precisely determined and, at the same time, early detection of obstacles and potentially critical situations. Tried-and-tested products from high-volume car production are intelligently networked and adapted to one another to make them suitable for a completely new type of mobility.
Redundant brake systems and ABS functions for robo-taxis
A dual safeguard, at minimum, is not only a necessity for monitoring the surroundings in driverless vehicles, but also for the brake systems. Continental’s portfolio includes suitable technologies, such as the MK C1 one-box brake system, which has been in series production since 2016 and combines ABS, ESC, and a brake booster. For use in autonomous vehicles, the one-box brake system is combined with a Hydraulic Brake Extension that can, in conjunction with ABS, safely brake the vehicle in the highly unlikely event of primary brake failure. Full braking functionality is therefore guaranteed. Both systems are comprehensively tested, industrialized, and reliable. In the new combination, they form the redundant and production-ready MK C1 HAD brake system for highly automated driving and for driverless mobility applications. The MK C1 HAD offers an additional safety benefit in that the electromechanically generated maximum brake pressure is achieved after only 150 milliseconds. This means that automated vehicles without driver intervention can be brought to a standstill more rapidly than would be possible with conventional brake systems.
The ABS function represents an additional feature, because robo-taxis have not been equipped with a system of this type until now. The technology will become especially important when driverless vehicles are on the road in wintry road conditions. Vehicle dynamics systems such as ABS, ESC, and traction control will enable vehicles to pull away safely on icy roads and provide maximum traction on slippery slopes or during braking.
Research at global locations
The development of these and other technologies for driverless vehicles is being advanced by a global network comprising a total of five Continental centres of excellence in Germany, China, Japan, Singapore, and the U.S.
Continental has a development team in place for driverless technologies in Shanghai.
At these locations, R&D work is being carried out with different emphases, but all make use of the CUbE platform and always with an eye on the common goal of providing suitable technologies for future generations of safe and efficient robo-taxis. In closed-off areas, such as on a company premises or on special routes in clearly defined urban areas, driverless mobility services are already in operation today. However, it is likely to take another decade or so before robo-taxis become a common sight in normal traffic.
For this purpose, Continental, EasyMile, Oakland University, and the City of Auburn Hills in Michigan are set to implement the pilot deployment of an autonomous shuttle on the Oakland University grounds. The pilot will begin in late August and last up to six months.
During the pilot, Continental will integrate its Zonar technology, which enables vehicle inspections via the RFID technology EVIR. The EVIR system captures, transmits, and records inspection, compliance, and maintenance data to the operator. Moreover, the Zonar Z Pass technology detects where and when the passengers enter and exit the vehicle. The aim of this pilot project is to gather experience in the operation of driverless vehicles and to collect valuable, empirical data that will be integrated in the technological development of these vehicles.