Telling it like it is: a frank conversation with two driverless car experts (Part 1)
Where is automated driving headed? 2025AD sat down to discuss the big picture with Ralph Lauxmann and Ibro Muharemovic, two leading Continental engineers. In the first part of our interview, they reveal why self-driving cars will have regional characteristics – and how their usage in Shanghai and USA will differ.
When Ralph Lauxmann and Ibro Muharemovic discuss automated driving, you can expect a pretty intense conversation – mixed with a lot of laughter. Both high ranking Continental engineers, you can sense that their job is their passion. We brought Muharemovic, who heads Continental’s Cruising Chauffeur Project, and Lauxmann, Senior Vice President Engineering, together for what turned out to be a very intriguing talk.
2025AD: Lately, carmakers seem to strive to outbid each other in setting earlier release dates for fully automated driving technology. Was there a leap in the development or are we simply experiencing intensified marketing efforts?
Lauxmann: There has been a technological leap indeed – and it’s important to communicate this progress to consumers. Intense competition has pushed the development of components and vehicles to the extent that series production of higher levels of automation is now foreseeable. But vehicle technology is only one important element: we also need a legal framework and the right infrastructure. Each of these three parts is crucial. They need to interact.
2025AD: How do you assess the current state of lawmaking efforts then?
Lauxmann: The legal discussion is very technology focused at the moment. It would make more sense to create a framework that leaves room for different technological solutions. For instance, we see legal guidelines that deal with the radar sensors that are installed in cars to detect tailgating and initiate a lane change. We should avoid narrow definitions that only allow for one specific technological approach. Why not define minimum requirements as to what an automated car needs to be able to do – and leave the design to the industry.
2025AD: It seems the U.S. administration is following more of a “laissez-faire” approach.
Muharemovic: I don’t think so. If they did then we’d have to change our set up every time we cross the state line. Thankfully, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is currently working to streamline legislation. (ed.note: for more information, see here) For the car industry, it’s really important that laws don’t become too granular. We need to have a set-up we can use in all 50 states.
2025AD: Speaking of different approaches - are there cultural differences when it comes to the acceptance of automated driving? Are U.S. Americans more open to the technology than Europeans are?
Muharemovic: We live in a globalized world so I don’t believe cultural differences still play an important role. It’s more interesting to look at the different groups you find in every culture. There are tech freaks and early adopters in Germany, USA or Japan. There are also differences among age groups. When I grew up, I always wanted to drive a V8 Mustang. I’m a typical gearhead. My brother is nine years younger and he wants to be driven. If he can summon a level 4 vehicle with his smartphone – that’s okay for him. Lauxmann: It won’t be enough to find a business case that only appeals to tech freaks. To reduce accidents significantly, the key will be developing a technology with benefits for all user groups.
2025AD: Will there be one global approach for automated driving? Or will we need regional variations?
Muharemovic: We will need to have a common understanding everywhere as to what automated driving offers. But of course, traffic in Michigan is different from traffic in Frankfurt: the speed, the rules, the behaviors – like how drivers change lanes for example!
2025AD: So it’s about different driving styles?
Lauxmann: The systems must be designed to cope with regional characteristics, like left-hand traffic. The elevated highways in Japan are a huge challenge for sensors. Even in Downtown Chicago, you sometimes don’t have reception with your smartphone. So vehicles and infrastructure always need to be adapted. But we need to define the car’s functions for individual use cases – and the handling of those use cases should be the same in every vehicle.
2025AD: Can you give an example?
Lauxmann: If I rent a car in the USA or anywhere in the world today, the means by which you activate Adaptive Cruise Control for example, differs in every vehicle. Say I want a car to drive me automatically from A to B – I should not have to study the manual for half an hour first to see how to activate this function. A standardized definition of those use cases will be crucial to create trust in the technology. If it’s a button that will activate automated driving, I would prefer that process to be the same, no matter what kind of vehicle I am sitting in.
2025AD: But will carmakers still be able to set themselves apart from competitors if a certain level of standardization is essential?
Muharemovic: Essentially, the cars’ DNA will be the same. Safety critical features have to be designed in such a way that users can instantly get along with them should they switch their car. In our globalized world, we are already seeing this development. The icon for windshield wipers is the same everywhere around the world. We also need icons for automated driving use cases – and the use cases have to be the same in each car… Lauxmann: …but there will be countless ways of customizing a fully automated car. How a car accelerates, how it takes a curve, how the interior and lighting are designed: there is still so much potential for carmakers to differentiate themselves and appeal to their customers.
2025AD: What do you consider as the most important use cases?
Lauxmann: Highly automated vehicles will basically have three applications. First, they can take me from A to B on a highway. Second, they can transport goods or people in urban traffic. And third, they can park autonomously. The degree of utilization will vary in different regions. In the USA, the highway pilot will certainly play a huge role because of the large distance between cities. But with valet parking I’m not so sure. It’s already an established model there in its truest sense: people park your car for you. You also have giant parking lots in front of malls so the need for automation might be less compelling than in Shanghai where parking lots are scarce. So based on the technology, different regions will have different priorities – but we won’t design functions specifically for a region.
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