“Full connectivity will precede full automation”
In the second part of our tech talk, Ralph Lauxmann and Ibro Muharemovic discuss the perfect Human-Machine Interface, the different levels of automation and why autonomous cars will never entirely replace conventional cars.
2025AD: Continental is working on the Cruising Chauffeur, a highway pilot. You already mentioned that the legal framework is the current bottleneck, but what are the technical challenges for this function?
Lauxmann: Connectivity. Because the on-board sensors will not be able to manage all driving scenarios on their own. Once the system takes over driving tasks, we need full connectivity. The vehicle must communicate with its environment – for safety reasons or to get route updates. I drove from Stuttgart to Frankfurt this morning. Repeatedly, my cell phone signal broke down. It’s impossible to get level 4 automation series market ready with such unreliable infrastructure. This combination of higher technological standards within the car and higher demands in terms of connectivity will determine when we can enter series production.
Muharemovic: The Cruising Chauffeur is an example of an level 4 system because it is able to recognize its system limits and solve the situation independently by performing one of several minimum risk maneuvers. For instance, it is able to change to the emergency lane and stop there. In another situation, it would drive to the next rest area and halt there. The driver doesn’t have to take over control. But we still offer him the opportunity
2025AD: How must the Human-Machine Interface be designed to keep drivers in the loop and avoid mode confusion?
Muharemovic: The driver needs to know what the car is planning before it acts. Let’s say I am reading on my smartphone while being chauffeured. There is a car driving slowly in front of me so my car decides to overtake. If I get this information in advance, I’m okay with it. If the car acts without informing me or at least making the information easily available, it creates uncertainty. We want to avoid that. The passengers need to know at all times that the car is in charge and that it is aware of its environment. Plus, the vehicle also needs to communicate with pedestrians and other road participants.
2025AD: What could such an HMI look like?
Lauxmann: There is no definite solution yet. However, light will certainly play an important role in the communication inside and outside. That’s why Continental is planning with Osram to form a joint venture that, amongst other things, aims to develop light-based solutions for autonomous vehicles.
Muharemovic: It could be a good way to avoid driver overload.. We are working on a multi-modal warning strategy that includes audible, visual and haptic cues but the real work is to find the right balance. Our human factors colleagues are quite busy working on the right solution. What we want to avoid is that users get overloaded with information and turn off the feature and with it don’t take advantage of all the safety benefits.
Lauxmann: Like in an airplane, it will be a mix. There will also be carefully selected voice announcements. But an airplane doesn’t have to communicate with other road users, so that’s an additional challenge.
2025AD: So we need an HMI for inside and outside the car?
Lauxmann: Absolutely. This is a priority of our work at Continental. Again, it will be important to reach a level of standardization. As a pedestrian, I want to communicate with an autonomous Ford the same way as with an Opel, Mercedes or BMW. Otherwise, we create a new sort of mode confusion.
2025AD: Some OEMs have announced they will skip Level 3 automation entirely because it demands too much of the driver. What is your stance on the level 3/level 4 debate?
Muharemovic: We are developing Level 3 and Level 4 technology. The Cruising Chauffeur is a Level 4 system as it has the capability to operate in the specified domain without the need of involving a driver in case of a recognized system limitation – has the capability to safely initiate a minimum risk maneuver -. The choice of which level we buy remains a personal choice. Personally, If I need to touch my steering wheel every two or three seconds while driving on the highway, it’s more of a burden than a benefit. Our goal is to create a user-centric system that is secure and affordable at the same time where the people enjoy the safety benefits of what our teams have developed. Our big strength at Continental lies in our ability to provide the complete sensor setup, to integrate all components in one system and guarantee fallback options.
2025AD: Would you say that the technology for fully automated driving is ready? Is series production just a matter of affordability?
Lauxmann: Our focus is on viability. We are not working with sensors we know will still cost 25,000 Euros in 2022. The individual components today are already capable of delivering their desired functions. The remaining challenge is fusing the sensor data and transmitting it. And of course, my vehicle must be able to perform all security relevant functions even if connectivity is interrupted. Only then we can talk about series production.
2025AD: We have talked a lot about different levels of automation. For the foreseeable future, there will still be cars with zero automation on our roads. How can they coexist safely?
Muharemovic: Our point is: automated cars need to be a regular part of the overall traffic, they should not disturb it. We will always have mixed traffic because some people just like to drive themselves. However, I don’t know anybody who says: “Yeah great, I love stop and go traffic” or who enjoys driving past construction sites. So especially in commuter traffic, we will see many automated cars. Eventually we will reach a level where vehicles can move closer together and at a faster speed – while also being safer.
2025AD: Even with conventional cars still on the road?
Muharemovic: We might see dedicated lanes for automated cars to make use of their full potential – similar to car pool lanes in California where traffic is usually much quicker. Everyone would still be free to drive manually – but maybe only in dedicated lanes. And maybe one day these dedicated lanes are then only for the classics – the ones without AD.
2025AD: So you don’t think we will reach a point where conventional cars need to be banned entirely in order to realize a zero accidents vision?
Lauxmann: No, but I do think conventional cars need to be integrated into the flow of information in the future. That doesn’t mean every car needs to be fully automated. But to realize this vision zero, all cars need to communicate with each other and their environment. Maybe conventional cars can be retrofitted to enable connectivity – even old-timer vehicles. Full connectivity will precede full automation.
Muharemovic: All new cars will have minimum safety standards anyway. Starting 2017, all new vehicles in the USA need to be equipped with a rear-view camera. Why? Because over 300 children are fatally run over by a car driving backwards every year. That is a catastrophe. There is also a memorandum of understanding signed by 22 OEMs to make Automated Emergency Braking (AEB) a standard feature. Each year, there will be fewer vehicles with level zero automation. We simply cannot accept 1.2 million road fatalities every year.
2025AD: Looking into the future, how do you envision our traffic system in 2040?
Lauxmann: To me, our goal is in sight. In five years, I would like to sit in my car and be driven to work, fully automated. After that, the crucial step will not be improved technology or infrastructure – it will be adapting our infrastructure to the new possibilities. Guardrails could become a thing of the past. A lot of parking lots could become obsolete, freeing space for housing or recreation areas. Automated driving will even have a bigger impact on our lives than electric mobility; in fact it will impact the very way we live.