Werner Köstler, expert for software architecture at Continental, answered frequently asked questions on the software topic in July 2021.
Vision ZeroSoftware is the catalyst behind modern mobility and can therefore be viewed as the ’oxygen’ of an entire industry. Today, over 90 percent of automotive innovations can already be ascribed to software and electronics. The vehicle functions controlled by software are increasing – and are growing ever more important. Digital technologies enable a higher quality driving experience. They provide seamless connectivity both in communication and in the networking of different vehicles, as well as a more efficient use of resources. In all, they ensure sustainable mobility. All this is of increasing value to customers. What’s more, these technologies are a key element in the transition to autonomous driving, and therefore of the long-term goal of Vision Zero – a future without road accidents, injuries and fatalities. Without software, all this would be inconceivable.
These days, there is often a dedicated electronic control unit on board for each vehicle function – for the airbag, the cellphone connection, or the air conditioning, for example. Depending on the vehicle equipment, more than 100 ECUs may be installed. A lot of things need to communicate with each other and be supplied with energy. Consequently, a modern mid-size car contains more than two kilometers of cables. In future, autonomous driving will generate much larger volumes of data. Moreover, complexity has hugely increased due to greater vehicle connectivity. The electronic systems of current models couldn’t cope with all this. Therefore, the smart car of the future needs a new architecture. Continental recognized this trend early on and is developing innovative solutions. Some of these are described in more detail under Question 4.
Just recently, Continental brought an innovation full of computing power onto the road for car manufacturer Volkswagen. The ID.3 electric car has two High Performance Computers (HPCs) on board. These intelligent, high-powered computers fit on a circuit board roughly the size of an A4 sheet of paper, and work practically like a brain. They combine data streams and manage them many times faster than standard data lines. One of these HPCs is the in-car application server, or ICAS1, from Continental. The HPC contains around 20 million lines of code and enables a wealth of functions. This reduces the amount of wiring and saves the manufacturer both space and costs. What’s more, important security updates – and, in the near future, new driving functions – can be installed via the cellphone network or WiFi – without going to the workshop. This gives customers flexibility. These services, known as over-the-air (OTA) updates, are an increasingly important factor for customers when purchasing a car.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is hugely important for the future of mobility. That’s why Continental has increased its technical capacity by installing a supercomputer at the Frankfurt site. This is one of the world’s 500 most powerful computers and runs on certified green electricity. With this technology, Continental can develop state-of-the-art systems for assisted, automated and autonomous vehicles much faster, more effectively, and more cost-efficiently. However, AI can do more than this. Currently, the vehicle interior is a hot topic in this respect. Here, AI provides the basis for intuitive human-machine dialog. To do this, it must be capable of recognizing individual drivers and adapting to their specific driving style. Furthermore, AI can already tell where the person behind the wheel is looking, and how attentive they are being. Continental already offers display and control solutions that are able to use a lot of these pieces of information.
The internal Continental Software Academy trains its employees in the field of digitalization. Active users include over 15.000 Continental employees around the world. Whereas nearly 11.000 training courses were completed in 2019, the academy recorded a huge increase in 2020, with 50.000 courses completed. In addition, software expertise is also reinforced by investments, shares in other companies, and strategic acquisitions. The latest example is Continental’s minority stake in German-American start-up Recogni. The company is working on a new chip architecture, which will enable objects to be detected in real time. The processors will therefore also be deployed in HPCs. There, they will be responsible for rapidly processing sensor data for automated and autonomous driving. Argus Cyber Security has also belonged to Continental since 2017. This Continental subsidiary is a pioneer in cyber security for the automotive industry, and helps vehicle manufacturers to protect cars and commercial vehicles that are connected to the internet from hackers. And Elektrobit has also been part of the Continental family since 2015. Elektrobit’s products offer flexible, innovative software solutions for a variety of uses, including connected vehicle infrastructure, Human Machine Interface (HMI) technologies, driver assistance systems, and ECUs.