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Top 10 Tech Tidbits from Continental's Biennial Tech Day

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 6/19/2015 Frank Markus

Continental -- the Germany-based global tire and Tier 1 automotive supplier, not the Bentley or the Lincoln -- hosts a big booth at the biennial Frankfurt IAA auto show to showcase the tech advances it spends 2 billion Euro annually developing. Most of the goodies on display will be appearing on a production car within about two years, so there are no Google robo-car competitors, no flying cars, and no nuclear powertrains. To keep its booth from getting lost in the new-model-launch shuffle in Frankfurt, the company invites select media to a special summer tech-day event at its Contidrom proving ground near Hanover. We've got highlights.

Research

Electronic Guardrails

Continental Biennial Tech Day© Provided by MotorTrend Continental Biennial Tech Day Did you know that 55 percent of all fatalities in the U.S. involve a vehicle leaving the road? Conti's road departure protection systems aim to take a big bite out of those stats with systems that mostly uses existing sensors. The required elements are typically there on cars fitted with lane departure warning or automatic high-beam assist. The base system uses a single forward-looking camera to determine the lane boundary and chassis motion sensors to compare road surface roughness from left to right as further confirmation that the vehicle has left the roadway. Then the ESC system applies brakes on one side of the vehicle to steer it back into the lane — and also to rouse the distracted or drowsy driver. Steering inputs are also monitored so that if the driver deliberately turns the wheel to drive onto a shoulder, the system won't fight back. An enhanced system is also under development for vehicles with range-sensing stereo-vision cameras and/or forward-looking radar. These systems can develop a more sophisticated picture of the road ahead, traffic on it, and the presence of roadside dangers such as guardrails, parked cars, and oncoming traffic and intervene earlier to prevent an accident. Cars with electric power steering can be steered that way, as well. No development partners were announced, but this technology is expected to appear very soon.

Cam-irrors

Continental Biennial Tech Day© Provided by MotorTrend Continental Biennial Tech Day Concept cars have been shown for eons with cameras and inside displays replacing aerodynamically messy mirrors, but now Continental is getting serious about producing such a system. (Of course the concept faces legal hurdles in the U.S.) Low-profile cameras are said to enable up to a 30 percent improvement in aerodynamic drag area (the drag coefficient multiplied by the frontal area). Anyone could point a camera backward and show the image on a screen, but Conti is toying with various different enhanced views. For instance, the side-view screens (located just inside where the plain old glass ones go) ordinarily show a nice wide field of view covering most blind spots, with lane departure warning icons and all. But by borrowing part of the image from the aft-facing camera located on the roof antenna fin, the screen can also show a phantom view of the bodywork and an image of what's out of view directly behind the car on that side. Likewise, the center screen (which could be up in the position of the conventional rear-view mirror), can incorporate an almost panoramic view stitched together from the side-view mirror images. Or you can display just the center and passenger-side views. The images more than sufficed to inform me of my surroundings in a CLS test car, but integrating those outboard screens into the dash might pose an aesthetic challenge. They totally ruined that Mercedes dash for me.

Engine Vibes

Continental Biennial Tech Day© Provided by MotorTrend Continental Biennial Tech Day How do you feel about engine-noise enhancement? I tend to turn my nose up at systems that just play engine music through the sound system, but I'm less offended by the little tubes that usher actual engine noises of a pleasing nature past the firewall sound deadeners. And I think I'm OK with two ideas Continental cooked up and demonstrated on an Opel Astra 1.6-liter four-banger wagon. Both involve electromagnetic rams that just create vibration under instructions from the engine controller. One was mounted to the right-side engine mount, sending its vibes directly into the hollow crash rail on that side. It was programmed to add third-order frequencies in lockstep with engine rpm, such that when it was activated, the car sounded for all the world like a V-6. The other was mounted to the center of the spare-tire well — a nice big stamping in a large resonant area, perfect for adding lower-frequency sounds. This one was programmed to add some fourth-order vibes; when activated, it made the car sound like a V-8 under acceleration. I'd probably want an "off" switch for this one, however, as it sounded a more like a WRX with a fart-can exhaust under low-rpm cruising conditions. Oh, and if you're wondering, I did try turning both systems on, and it sounded weird. Maybe like a 14- or 18-cylinder, for all I know. Systems like these promise great brand differentiation with shared engines, and if a brand chose not to disclose that it was using such a technology, calling it an "active engine mount" or similar, I doubt engine-note purists would cry foul.

Road Reader

Continental Biennial Tech Day© Provided by MotorTrend Continental Biennial Tech Day One of the big building blocks to autonomous vehicles is making the vehicle understand the environment it is operating in. Is the road wet? Bumpy? Icy? Some of these conditions will likely prompt the car to return control to the driver. An S-Class Mercedes equipped with Conti's advanced road condition estimation system uses forward-looking cameras, lasers, rain sensors, wheel-speed sensors, and more to formulate a highly informed idea of the road conditions. (The lasers sense wetness most reliably, but Conti is trying to bring the cameras up to speed because many vehicles don't already have lasers.) The system is forever trying to predict the coefficient of friction. Cars connected to satellite radio or other services also have access to weather info, but here it's current conditions — not forecasts — that are important. The test car also pinged the nearest reporting weather station to obtain immediate condition reports. This concept is still some years off, but you can be sure it will be included in any highly automated vehicle.

Haptic Accelerator

Continental Biennial Tech Day© Provided by MotorTrend Continental Biennial Tech Day Fess up: Do you always notice the little upshift indicator that appears on the instrument cluster to get you to shift up? Most folks don't, and even if they do, Continental claims that reaction time to a haptic kickback of the accelerator is 10 times quicker than the response to seeing a message, processing it, and acting upon it. So the little VW Up! I sampled with this system presented a little double throttle kick whenever it deemed I'd be best served by upshifting. Myriad other systems could use such a system, including traffic light assist (which encourages a driver to slow down in order to arrive at the next traffic light just as it turns green in a connected car). A simple linear accelerator located below the floor (floor-hinged pedals) or under the dash (top-hinged) does the trick. This tech is expected quite soon.

Haptic Touch Screen

Continental Biennial Tech Day© Provided by MotorTrend Continental Biennial Tech Day One of the knocks against touchscreens is that you must take your eyes off the road too long to operate them. To combat this, Conti has developed a haptic home screen with four zones that is said to dramatically reduce eyes-off-the-road time. If the driver just blindly runs his finger (just one — it doesn't work with two fingers because the whole screen typically moves, so you'd get a nebulous result with two fingers touching in different areas) in a circle around the home screen, the four quadrants will each vibrate, and when the one you want does, you press it. Familiarity with the car will inform an owner as to which quadrant to choose. Then subsequent menus also offer haptic feedback so that small glances down to the screen to select an item are met with a confirmation of the selection via the screen. The actuators behind the screens include an electromagnetic spool with two windings. In certain operating situations, they trigger mechanical feedback that can both be felt by the user and simultaneously measure the force exerted. The actuators are located behind the screen's bonded layers (protective glass, capacitive sensor and display). This technology is production-ready.

Top 10 Tech Tidbits from Continental's Biennial Tech Day

Aluminum Turbo

Continental Biennial Tech Day© Provided by MotorTrend Continental Biennial Tech Day Did you know the current Mini's B38 three-banger turbo boasts the world's first aluminum turbo housing? The car debuted last year, but Conti wasn't able to crow about it at the last (2013) Tech Day, so it's crowing now. The housing is water-cooled, though the bearings themselves are not. We're told that the nickel required to make an iron/steel turbo housing is now so expensive that this aluminum version actually saves cost as well as trims 30 percent (2.6 pounds) from the weight of an all iron/steel housing. What's more, a higher inherent heat tolerance means the engine can maintain a stoichiometric air-fuel ratio even at the rated power output. (Many turbos dump extra gas in just to keep the turbo cool.) This helps the catalyst last longer, saves fuel, and reduces repair costs.

Strong Silent Types

Continental Biennial Tech Day© Provided by MotorTrend Continental Biennial Tech Day Don't you hate when your accessory belts squeal? Continental's new UniPower Tough Grip multi-rib accessory drive belt is virtually squealproof. The rib surfaces are deeper and made of a tough textile material instead of rubber so that when there is a slight misalignment of a pulley (a typical cause of squeal), the belt keeps running silently, and it supposedly lasts just as long as the old rubber ones even when misaligned. If you want to know whether you have the new kind, look at the color — the ribbed surface is gray. Also, you probably have one if your car is powered by a new Chrysler V-6.

Continental Biennial Tech Day© Provided by MotorTrend Continental Biennial Tech Day

Mechanics' Helper

Continental Biennial Tech Day© Provided by MotorTrend Continental Biennial Tech Day Speaking of belts and maintenance items, Conti is helping folks figure out how to install its maintenance parts. A QR code on the box of many such parts takes the mechanic or DIYer to the PIC, or Product Information Center. Here they can see detailed instructions to replace the part in question, saving hours of YouTube surfing. A related ContiDrive app features an augmented reality function that allows users to point a smartphone or tablet at a complex part and see an exploded view to help understand what's inside it. Pretty cool.

Continental Biennial Tech Day© Provided by MotorTrend Continental Biennial Tech Day

Tires or Chassis?

Continental Biennial Tech Day© Provided by MotorTrend Continental Biennial Tech Day Our final exercise of the day had us comparing a fleet of circa 2000 BMW 318ti hatchbacks shod in the latest and greatest ContiPremiumContact 5 tires against a squadron of their present-day replacements, the 1 Series two-door hatchback, all shod in first-generation ContiPremiumContact tires. The "old" tires were newly manufactured for this test so there would be no tire-aging issue, but the compounds and technology dated to 2000. We sampled them on Conti's 2-mile wet-handling track. The old-timers featured no electronic stability control functionality whatsoever yet managed to knife through the tightest turns faster and much more sure-footedly than the state-of-the-art cars on old tires could manage. Turn-in feel at the rim was far greater in the E36 models (it wasn't the fault of the new cars' electric steering assist, either), and the front end washed out at much earlier speeds on the new cars, prompting heavy ESC intervention. Only on our final, fastest lap were we able to provoke the 318s to surpass their grip level, and when the cars broke away, they did so very gently and controllably. Continental contends that these tires improved the 318's safety level by 20 percent and also that tires account for about half of a car's perceived steering precision. Moral of the story: As the value of your older car goes down, do NOT cheap out on bargain tires. Also: Any car can get a Tesla-like performance upgrade after a few years by treating it to new state-of-the-art tires. Full disclosure: The ContiPremiumContact 5 is a summer tire, not an all-season, so only a tiny percentage of Americans will be interested, but when it's time to buy tires for your car, check wet performance and other ratings at Tire Rack (www.tirerack.com) to find the best-performing tire to suit your vehicle and needs.

Continental Biennial Tech Day© Provided by MotorTrend Continental Biennial Tech Day
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