So here’s another face of the safe mobility of the future: Booked with an app, a self-driving taxi hauls into sight, all-electric and with no driver. What is on board is technology from Continental that’s already on active service in pilot projects.
There’s a paradox here: More and more people in bigger and bigger conurbations need to be more mobile than ever before. The logical consequences are gridlocked highways, densely packed streets and more tailbacks than ever. One means of making individual mobility in major cities safe, fast and reliable in the future is the robo-taxi. These autonomous shuttles with space for several passengers can each replace multiple cars. They also have no need for parking spaces because they are constantly in motion. Anyone looking to get from A to B simply pulls out their smartphone and calls a robo-taxi. The vehicle rolls up, they step on board and in next to no time they are heading for their chosen destination. Large numbers of these fully automated vehicles could make downtown traffic-flow far smoother, more efficient and environmentally friendly, not to mention safer.
The technology that will enable future robo-taxis to drive forward a smarter form of mobility is almost entirely available. At Continental, research and development engineers are working on a variety of projects themed around this topic at five centers of competence in Germany, Japan, Singapore, China and the USA. The central development platform used at all of these locations is the CUbE, a small driverless shuttle based on the EZ10 robo-taxi from French company EasyMile. Continental has held a stake in this driverless vehicle manufacturer since 2017.
Tests involving the CUbE prototypes are focusing primarily on the everyday serviceability of the autonomous technologies. “The technological building blocks that enable robo-taxis to operate are available in principle and have been tried and tested in practice. However, we now have to intelligently, safely, and efficiently put them together to form an overall picture,” says Andree Hohm, Director of Driverless Mobility at Continental. The surprising thing here is that we are mainly talking about proven series production technologies from Continental, such as brake systems and vehicle environment sensors, that are being adapted to handle their specific applications in robo-taxis. Continental is not aiming to develop the CUbE into a production-ready vehicle and instead will be looking to bring individual components to market readiness. As Andree Hohm explains: “Customers developing driverless mobility systems should be able to draw on a wide array of high-performance products and solutions from Continental. That’s what we are working towards.”
Concrete examples here include the technologies with which a vehicle can register its environment. If they are to navigate safely through traffic with no driver on board, robo-taxis in particular need to be able to map that environment reliably, accurately, and completely. To this end, robo-taxis use several different sensor systems involving cameras, radar and lasers with which they can generate a 360-degree image. With the aid of the CUbE, Continental has developed a production-ready radar system especially for driverless vehicles. Radar technology has a special part to play here, because it can see through objects such as parked cars and spot a cyclist, for example, hidden behind them.
To ensure that driverless transportation systems remain firmly under control at all times, they are equipped with not only one or more complete back-up systems for the sensors, but a redundant second brake system as well. Here too, Continental offers proven components adaptable for use in robo-taxis including the MK C1 one-box brake system, which combines ABS, ESC, and a brake booster. To ensure full braking functionality in all eventualities, this series production brake is combined with a Hydraulic Brake Extension. Both systems are production-ready for driverless mobility applications.
The CUbE vehicles with their Continental technology are already out and about on company sites. In addition, over the course of this year a pilot project involving an autonomous shuttle will kick off in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Over a six-month period, Continental, EasyMile, Oakland University and the City of Auburn Hills are aiming to test new technologies for robo-taxis in regular service on the hilly campus of Oakland University. Students, faculty and visitors will be able to use the autonomous shuttle service in what is a further step toward making the technology robust and fit for purpose in the urban mobility scenarios of the future. As Continental expert Andree Hohm says: “Driverless vehicles represent a revolution. And this revolution must take place in evolutionary steps.”