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Killer Kar Apps: Fourth Annual ContiTech Demo Day

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 4/10/2015 Frank Markus

Just as the crocus bulbs start to sprout in Detroit each spring, Tier 1 supplier Continental hauls a bunch of auto journalists up to its 540-acre Brimley test facility in Michigan's Upper Peninsula to enjoy the death throes of winter for one more day. The payoff is a glimpse into the near-term crystal ball of cool technology that will arrive in the next couple years. Here are five highlights:

Research

Advance Trailer Tow

Reversing a trailer is one of those advanced driving skills that many of us don't practice very often, and the longer the trailer, the trickier it is to reverse. Continental reckons that any tow vehicle with cameras, electric power steering, and a clever enough computer ought to be able to do the hard work for you. After all, it's not that much different than parallel parking a car, right? The main difference is the computer doesn't know where you want the trailer to go, so you have to tell it by twisting a knob on the center console. Simply activate the system (the steering wheel jiggles back and forth to confirm), select reverse, watch your mirrors, and twist the knob in the direction you want the trailer to turn. More knob, more turn. Bring it back to zero degrees, and the rig will go straight backward forever. The rearview camera assesses the angle of the trailer, and the side-view mirror cameras gauge its length. The computer handles that tricky countersteer to get the trailer moving in the desired direction. Easy peasy. It currently only works with bumper-hitch trailers, but the engineers say fifth-wheel/gooseneck compatibility is just a matter of programming. This tech will be ready for implementation by 2018. Audi has announced a similar system for its forthcoming 2016 Q7 SUV using the MMI knob to steer the trailer, but it only works with European-style trailer hitches, so it will not be offered in the U.S.


Really Advanced Trailer Tow

It's nice to have a computer do the steering, but what if you need to thread that 30-foot Airstream into its storage-lot spot between two others? You would surely need a spotter, right? Not if you have an Android or iOS tablet sporting Continental's Wi-Fi-connected trailering app. Select park, activate the system on the dash, get out, and go to the back of the trailer. Fire up the app, press the brake-pedal image, move the shifter on the screen to reverse, and begin tapping the accelerator icon. (This only releases the brake, never opens the throttle.) The rig begins moving back. Tilt the tablet left or right to steer the trailer left or right just as the console knob does from inside the trailer. You can engage drive and pull forward if you mess up. And an image on the tablet shows the 360-degree around-view of the tow vehicle (front, rear, and side-view mirror cameras are required) so that you can ensure that the nose isn't about to bash into something while you're watching the trailer. Definitely the coolest car app I've seen recently, this one has a few legal hurdles to surmount.


V2X Communications

We've been talking about vehicle-to-X (infrastructure, other cars, pedestrian handhelds, etc.) forever, but the technology is getting close enough to implementation that we are starting to see various companies' visions for how it will be integrated into a vehicle's infotainment and safety systems. Continental demonstrated ways of alerting the driver via head-up and center screen displays in the following scenarios:

  • When a vehicle ahead experiences a stability-control intervention, word is sent to following vehicles, which then issue visible and audible warnings and a kickback at the accelerator pedal to suggest slowing.

  • When an emergency vehicle is approaching, an audible in-car siren noise plays and a red light flashes on the display, with an arrow indicating where the vehicle is coming from -- a godsend in today's hushed interiors.

  • Traffic-light planning indicates a red light ahead and displays a target speed for hitting the light when it turns green -- very useful in the head-up display. Arrive at a red light, and the center screen shows a stopwatch counting down the time remaining to green. The thought here is that if folks watch the timer instead of the brake lights ahead of them, there will be less of an accordion effect leaving the light for greater traffic-flow efficiency.

  • Left-turn assist provides help when you find yourself face-to-face with a car turning left and you have trouble seeing approaching traffic. V2V sees what you don't and both warns and takes control of the brakes to prevent a head-on collision. One of the hold-ups on this technology is final definition of a radio spectrum for these communications. It is also imagined that some smartphone apps might bring some of the benefits of V2X to legacy vehicles, bikers, and pedestrians.


360-Degree Around-View Inside Mirror

We know and love the around-view monitors that show on the central display screen, but what about integrating this into an oversize hybrid rearview mirror? When just tooling along, a silvered surface provides a typical mirror image of what's behind, but should a cross-traffic hazard be detected, an image will show and an alarm will sound, and the brakes can even engage to prevent calamity. Signal for a turn, and suddenly both edges of the inside rearview mirror show the blind-spot camera images. There are additional warnings if a car is present in the blind spot you've signaled toward. Engage reverse, and you get the rearview camera image in the center of the mirror, a bird's-eye, 360-degree image of what's around the car with lines indicating the path the tires will take on the left edge, and a synthesized image that appears to be from a drone hovering some 6-8 feet diagonally above and behind the rear of the car. This preproduction technology is also within a year or two of production.


Highly Automated Vehicle

We've ridden in a lot of piloted vehicles, and nowadays we're seeing refinements of the driving style. Continental is focusing on making the occupants comfortable by doing things such as slowing for sharper interstate bends. It's also looking to make the "driver" comfortable by clearly indicating that the car has noticed when another car has cut in front of the vehicle, for example. This system also includes a light strip that traverses the entire base of the windshield to indicate the driving mode -- pink for fully manual, green for adaptive cruise with no steering support, and blue for cruise and steering. The future could also see a driver analyzer system consisting of two infrared cameras trained on the driver's face to detect intent, inattention, drowsiness, etc. That way if the driver looks left and steers left without signaling, there will be no attempt to countersteer, but if the driver's focus is elsewhere and the car drifts left, the system will steer back into the lane. The system uses a stereovision camera in the windshield, long-range forward-looking radar, and four short-range radar units in the corners of the car. The car is still a concept aimed at the year 2020 or thereabouts.

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