As automakers and policymakers around the world increasingly press for the democratisation of futuristic automotive safety technologies such as advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) in vehicles of different segments, technology suppliers are progressively innovating to bring more efficient as well as cost-effective solutions to aid road safety.
In that quest, although active safety systems including ADAS are still some time away from seeing mass implementation in a developing market like India, the country, however, is playing a key role in the critical research and development of these life-saving systems which include functions such as occupant safety monitoring and autonomous emergency braking (AEB).
German Tier 1 supplier Continental is leveraging the capabilities at its Technical Center India (TCI) in Bangalore to contribute to some of the futuristic automotive safety technologies that will first see the light of day in advanced economies such as the US and Europe and gradually filter to emerging nations.
The company's India R&D operations contribute as much as 80 percent to the global development of safety functions such as a 'pre-crash safety monitor' which is slated to get introduced in these two continents by 2023-24.
With its safety domain control unit (SDCU), which significantly reduces the number of individual ECUs controlling the vehicle functions, Continental says it will be able to facilitate technologies such as adaptive airbags and other restraint systems to deploy the airbag even before the crash.
According to Sudeepth Puthumana, Head of Engineering, Business Unit Passive Safety and Sensorics, Continental Automotive India, "Based on our discussions with some European OEMs, it is observed that there is a strong inclination towards implementing this technology sooner rather than later. This feature will be aligned with the timeline of the adoption of autonomous driving technology in these markets, where a higher occupant freedom inside the cabin poses serious safety challenges in the event of a crash."
Sensors driving autopilot
With rapid progress on the front of autonomous driving technology which gets powered by a host of sensors and with Continental itself having showcased its driverless shuttle Cube, there will be an increased need for constant interactions with a vehicle's surroundings to detect any potential hazard in its path. As a result, vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication will become a basic norm for the vehicles of the future - which will be equipped with multiple sensors, cameras, a radar and lidar - all working in real-time and also correlating with the road data available on the cloud.
"V2X technology has got a lot of traction and interest from customers in the EU, US, Japanese, as well as Chinese markets. This is also influenced by the regulatory push towards V2X in these countries," said Puthumana.
"We are ready with the technology and different use cases that can be adapted to any market. We have both standalone and integrated solutions available. For emerging markets like India, it would depend on how the automobile market reacts to such features, but we see that this may take a few more years to get implemented here," added Puthumana.
Enhancing pedestrian safety
However, for these emerging markets, Continental is upping its game in the area of pedestrian safety which, in the Indian context, has recently become a regulatory requirement for all new passenger vehicles to be allowed to get sold in the market.
Contact Sensor System or CoSSy is a sensitive sensor system for various applications to distinguish between air-borne sounds, knocking noises, dents and scratches.
With its microphone-based contact sensor system (CoSSy), the company aims to assist drivers during low-speed maneuvers and bring the vehicle to an emergency stop by detecting a low-speed contact between the vehicle and a person or object. The system is capable of scanning objects that lie outside the short-range detection cone of the existing ultrasonic sensors, for instance, those mandated under the AIS-145 regulations in India to assist the driver during reverse parking. Hence, Continental believes that CoSSy will be key for automated parking and at the same time the company is exploring other use cases such as external vehicle inspection in a self-drive rental car, road graphing, predictive maintenance and smart vehicle access using voice recognition.
"The complete development of CoSSy is our primary focus right now. The system can differentiate between airborne and structure-borne sounds which act as signals carrying information about the vehicle's surroundings. We are confident of getting our first global customer project by 2021," remarked Puthumana.
In India, the company is looking forward to approaching the shared mobility segment players to bring convenience for the monitoring of their fleet.
But, while the Covid-19 pandemic has crippled economies and brought even large multinationals into a limp mode struggling for survival, does Continental's TCI with over 4,000 staffers get affected as seriously?
"We are running in full swing. At this point, we have enough projects at our hands to execute from an engineering perspective. And, we play a significant role from the Technical Center India for our business unit by contributing to the global as well as local projects. So, we don't see that challenge from an engineering standpoint as of today."
"Having said that, we continue to review the business situation globally and proactively stay ahead of the curve, as proven by the long history of Continental," concluded Puthumana.