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Automation is the future



In a recent meeting held at Guida Sicura Aci-Sara centre, in Lainate (Milan) we investigated the future of technology and automation development, from assisted driving to braking systems. Tires included, of course

Duilio Damiani

It’s a short step from here to 2050! A future that looks increasingly similar to the one described in Isaac Asimov’s books, at least as far as the interaction between man and machine, with the latter “enslaved” to our needs and safety requirements.

With the prospect of an era dominated by electronics looming on the horizon, the future of mobility depends on the development of new technologies in sectors only apparently distant from each other, producing systems that we had, up until recently, only imagined. In this scenario, the Continental group has risen as a leading player through research and development activities carried out by its five divisions: Chassis & Safety, Powertrain, Interior, Tires and ContiTech.

Last May, during a meeting with the press, distributors and spare parts dealers at the ACI-SARA’s Safe Driving school circuit in Lainate, just outside MIlan, Continental Italia’s management enlightened us on what happens to be just around the corner, affording us the opportunity to test new technologies and developments on braking systems. "Constant innovation and investments on research and development are the driving force behind Continental’s relentless progress", says Alessandro De Martino, Ceo of Continental Italia. "We are convinced that our growth will continue further in a market that has already reached a significant size, where technological evolution is Paramount especially in view of tomorrow’s technologically advanced vehicles, which are being developed following four basic principles: connectivity, sharing, safety and autonomous driving".


What next?

Fuel-free mobility? An economy is waning leaving room for a new one. From now on, several different scenarios are possible, but all seem to rely on electricity powering the future of mobility. A realistic projection, based on the most current market trends as well as industrial developments, forecasts an exponential increase of zero emission vehicles, bound to reach 90% of total sales by the year 2050. No, these are not eco-marketing fantasies, as things stand, more than 3 million totally eco-friendly vehicles are already circulating on our roads - compared to a total of almost one billion vehicles – and are expected to soar to 10% of total sales in the next eight to ten years , reaching the ideal turning point of 50%, by the year 2040, thanks to government restrictions, already in place in several countries particularly sensitive to environmental issues with Norway and The Netherlands leading the way, on diesel engines in addition to massive anti-pollution campaigns in China, the world’s largest “electric market”, bent on reducing by about one-fifth the number of vehicles currently using heat engines by as early as 2025.

Hence, considering the current scenario, it comes as no surprise that Continental is focusing its efforts not only on power-unit components, but also on driver-assistance devices with the goal of simplifying traffic circulation placing the emphasis, above all, on active safety.

Looking ahead, the world’s progressive urbanization, with two thirds of the world population expected to live in large cities, and its progressive aging (1.2 billion people in 2030 will be over 60), require advanced and connected solutions. Thanks to widespread and advanced connectivity systems, integrated into highly-evolved transport systems in constant communication with road users, will soon make it possible to use our smartphone to plan routes and manage autonomously all those routine activities normally entrusted to human control.

In short, the future is electric and autonomous. The only question is, when can we expect this to happen.


“Vision zero” mission

"The premise is that about 90% of all accidents are the result of human error and rear-end collisions are due, 50% of the time, to insufficient braking or, in 30% of cases, due to not braking at all”, explains Marco Vellone, After Sales Director of Continental Italia.

Continental’s mission, called Vision Zero, is to reduce the number of accidents, if possible, to zero, through advanced driver-assistance systems, as well as reducing harmful emissions. Last year alone road accident casualties numbered 1.2 million, with over 50 million injuries, with astronomical social and economic implications. Thus, the highest possible interaction between vehicles and users will lead to the ideal scenario of near-infallibility – and I stress “near” -, a condition obtainable through better and more advanced vehicle control systems, applicable on both single vehicles and the entire mobility system, and the Internet.

From lane departure warning systems to brake assistance and safe distance devices, made possible by radar and cameras, modern assistance devices provide the basis for tomorrow’s automated mobility. Continental is completely focused in promoting this trend, developing intelligent technologies and autonomous functions. The advantage is obvious: greater safety, comfort, convenience and efficiency.

"In the pursuit of our Vision Zero ideal, we are striving to improve the entire braking system" continues Vellone. "All our divisions, therefore, are more committed than ever to form strong synergies as far as research and development, so that the technological evolution of tires follows closely all the innovative proposals by Continental Automotive".


Brakes and tires according to Continental

The most recent application of Continental’s research work is found in Ate branded products (division of Continental Automotive), ready to make its debut on the new Alfa Romeo Giulia and Stelvio with its new MK C1 braking system. Several factors must be considered when it comes to bringing a vehicle to a halt, including the reaction times of the system when braking, now totally controlled by anti-lock and stability systems. The interval between processing data coming from the brake pedal or radar recognition systems and the braking itself, can translate into a longer or shorter braking distance in the event of a possible impact. Managed by an electro-hydraulic unit, the Ate Mk C1 system combines brake actuation and modulation, reducing response times by sending, at lightning speed, a signal to the brake callipers. Greater readiness and a significantly immediate and powerful braking action compared to the systems currently in use, contribute to reducing braking distances. During field tests, at a speed of 30 km/h test vehicles came at a complete standstill in 4.1 metres instead of the 6.8 needed by a classic ESP system, while at 66 km/h braking distance was reduced to 19 metres in the first case, compared to the 24 metres required by traditional systems.

The prize winning Mk C1, best innovation award at the 2017 Automotive News PACE Awards in Auborn Hills - Michigan / Usa, is made up by a smaller and lighter unit when compared to traditional systems, and represents the future also as far as Oem supplies.

Continental, though, is also known for its contribution towards the tire market, despite this being only a part of the German industrial group’s activities. In this case, high-tech developments simply cannot ignore the current availability of natural resources. Hence new experiments are being carried out to find new sources of natural rubber, for example the roots of the dandelion, able to replace natural rubber in future compounds. Every innovation, though, proves worthless when jeopardized by worn-out elements. Therefore a regular tire replacement policy is absolutely vital, the only one able to guarantee the best possible response of our vehicle when facing unexpected situations or poor road condition.

Before reaching the limits imposed by current legislations, tests show that a tread depth between 3 and 1.6 mm - the legal limit of tread wear - leads to a downward spiral in braking performance, halving the effectiveness of the system dangerously lengthening the braking distance by 57% in wet conditions and by 30% on dry roads, compared to new tires. Therefore, if on the one hand the legal limit represents a definite deadline, great care must be paid towards replacing a worn out tire as soon as the 3 mm threshold is reached. For this reason, in addition to the usual wear indicator, a second TWI (Tread Wear Indicator) is already present throughout the main Continental summer range, ready to warn the driver about the impending tire replacement limit and the need for a quick tire change. Hence the vehicle will regain its full efficiency, waiting for the time when even tire replacement procedures will be fully automated, just like driving. 

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