Continental’s Hohm: AV Market to ‘Dual-Stream’

Continental’s autonomous vehicle director says he expects the autonomous vehicle market to develop in a ‘two-streamed’ way.

In an exclusive interview with TU-Automotive, Andree Hohm, the component maker’s director of driverless mobility, said between now and 2022, the market would focus on development of technologies that purportedly allow existing, human-driven vehicles to be driven semi-autonomously and on cars that can function ‘driverlessly’. However, he added that it would take a long time for the latter market to become anything more than a niche segment.

Hohm also said he thought civic infrastructure would need to be significantly adapted to meet the operational needs of AVs, and that cooperation between politicians, regulators, and citizens would be key to widespread adoption of AVs happening in a manageable way.

 

Q: How do you expect the AV market to progress over the next two to three years?

“We’ll see two streams in the market. First of all, the evolution of the traditional vehicle, i.e. the vehicle that you and I drive every day. There we will get more functionalities for being able to drive without drivers’ influence in more and more scenarios. We will see functionalities in the market where the drivers are able to take back themselves from the driving action directly. So get your hands off the steering wheel and that’s the big step. The driver can then turn their attention to things other than driving, so they can watch a video, read the newspaper, and so on. Even if the application of that is maybe restricted to several sections of a certain highway which is homologated for that. Functionalities like that will appear on the market. Every big automaker is working on this workstream so it will happen finally. The basis for all that is done by the big technology companies. The second stream will be the careful and step-wise approach to real driverless autonomy. That means a totally different world to our standard vehicles. So it will go in the direction that is designated very often in public discussions as the robo-car: vehicles without steering wheels and pedals and so on where there’s not even the role of a driver anymore. You see smaller companies, start-ups like EasyMile and Navya in France, along with major automakers tapping into that workstream. They work on robo-cars which actually have that appearance and they really work on making it possible to provide mobility without a driver. There are many challenges connected with that. The introduction will follow a step-wise approach starting maybe with viable mobility offerings in private grounds like airports, theme parks, and major industrial sites. We’ll then, step by step, approach the final target so we can have fully driverless vehicles in public areas. However, this will most certainly take some time.”

Q: Continental’s 2018 Mobility Study found a decline in consumer confidence regarding AVs. Do you think that trend can be reversed?

“Yes, absolutely. Because the reason for that trend is it is still a kind of artificial result. Almost no one really has any traction around what autonomy really means, what benefits that can bring to the everyday life of people. Therefore it’s just a theoretical capability and opportunity. People are not actually having it today in their vehicles so they’re lacking experience in it. This then leads to a more skeptical opinion of it. There is a very interesting experience I make here with all our prototypes which makes me very optimistic that I can reverse that trend. Every time I take a skeptical person from the press or the public into one of our prototypes, maybe via a robo-car or a traditional vehicle capable of travelling, for example, on a highway in an autonomous fashion, people are really excited and like it. People instantly see the big opportunities it could have for their lives: saving time, making travel more comfortable. So people were really excited and it turned very quickly into a big rush to those systems. Since those cars are, at the moment, at the state of prototypes, in some cases it’s even two truckfuls in a short period of time. So when one looks at these experiences, for me it’s clear we can very easily reverse that trend by getting people into traction with what autonomous [driving] means for their everyday lives.”

Q: What sort of adjustments to existing road infrastructure will have to be made to make more widespread adoption of AVs possible?

“The safety of the vehicle’s operation always has to be guaranteed even if there is a loss of communication to the infrastructure. This is always to make sure the vehicle is able to handle that, so safety is the most important thing. Even if you have a loss of connection, the vehicle must at least be able to come to a pre-defined safe status. So at least that part of the autonomy will still be at the 100% focus of the vehicle’s responsibility. Of course, to be able to drive in a larger variety of different areas, more complex scenarios, or higher velocities, an adaptation of the infrastructure will definitely help. Think about the infrastructure of intersections that are equipped with environmental sensors and know exactly where pedestrians are crossing the road, where vehicles are approaching, what is the current state of the traffic light. If they can transfer all this information to an approaching vehicle, then the vehicle can adapt its behavior in a much better way than by just relying on on-board sensors. This will definitely enhance the capabilities of AVs significantly, while the responsibility to take care that the vehicle is safe all the time remains with the vehicle. In general, there will have to be a step-by-step approach to full autonomy, i.e. driverless cars populating our cities. It will not happen tomorrow but it’s really important that we have a combined effort, not only from the industry but also from politicians, from homologation authorities, and wider society to build the stepping stones to make that happen in reasonable steps. With each step, we can learn how the technology works, what our additional challenges are, and where people can really get traction about how it feels to ride in an AV. Even if it’s not capable of driving around a city area with mixed traffic and 70 kilometer-per-hour speeds and so on from the first day. That’s the way in which autonomy will progress and how it will find its way into the market.”


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