As Google and Apple spark talk of automobiles as self-driving computers with glorified iPod user interfaces, Continental is quietly but actively innovating ways to improve driving experiences from the ground up.
The work of this global automotive technology supplier, along with that across the industry, has bigger implications for innovation than today’s headlines would suggest.
“The driver has been in control of the driving experience since automobiles were invented,” explained Christian Senger, Continental’s head of research for automotive electronics. “That ability to choose how actively you want to control your vehicle is no less important today.”
That’s why a variety of car functions have been automated over the years without an overt effort to automate driving entirely. Whether the speed controls of the mid-20th century, through ABS, ESC (Electronic Stability Control), or the recent advances in automatic braking, the focus has always been on augmenting driver experience, not replacing it.
“We envision a not-too-distant future in which you can hit a chauffeur button and sit back while your car drives itself on a highway, but we see driving changing far more dramatically before then,” Senger said.
Continental is helping drive the innovations that, collectively, should disrupt our notions of automobile transportation without blowing them up, but that don’t get the same media attention as the what-if experiments of industry outsiders. Not surprisingly, much of its work starts with tires.
“No matter how interconnected an automotive system may be, our products are in contact with the road,” Senger explained. “So they’re a natural point from which to aggregate and dispense data that can affect driving controls.”
For instance, its Intelligent Tire System utilizes sensors buried just below the tread to monitor wear, pressure, and weight load, then tees it up on a cockpit display so commercial truck drivers can adjust for safety and fuel economy. It also announced at this year’s CES a collection of tools that allow for real-time sensing of road conditions, and then connecting that data with satellite views, so drivers can literally see around corners. And it’s working with IBM on ways to process and apply the nearly one gigabyte of data such aware cars can generate every minute.
“Automating conditional adjustments requires a combination of mechanical and electronics know-how,” Senger said. “We’re in constant collaboration with most of the world’s automakers, which means we’re able to test new ideas against their customers’ expectations and tolerance for change.”
The customer component is a key point, since selling innovations is often harder than coming up with them.
Vehicles will continue to come to market every year with new features that either give drivers the choice to automate certain activities, or automate the capture and synthesize information that was heretofore unavailable to them. Continental has a step-by-step development map for these technologies through 2025, but its success will be determined by its customers’ ability to sell those innovations to the marketplace along the way.
After all, Continental should know that revenue and profits are where the rubber meets the road in the innovation business.
This article was written by Jonathan Salem Baskin from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.