Test & Measurement

Smart, Sensitive and Stunning: System Integration as basis for new vehicle functions

1st September 2011
ES Admin
Virtual Keys, interactive screens, magical buttons on glass or metal – Continental is showing new vehicle features based on cost effective system integration.
The international automotive supplier Continental is continuously working on new control and display concepts for the Human Machine Interface (HMI) and is capable to continuously integrate more and more features into its control units. Was the premium car the target car class in the past for all new functionalities, the emerging markets with their very specific vehicle demands and the traditional affordable car become more and more important target for new developments. The “Simplify your Drive – High Tech Low Cost” Continental demonstration vehicle highlights numerous innovative developments that make luxury functionalities available to moderately priced volume cars. The research vehicle is thus the first compact car that a driver can personalize, open and start with a key integrated into a cell phone. It is also the first car that shows first elements of the new Magic User Interface concept of Continental – with an active cockpit surface. A free-standing display on the center console is as brilliant and user-friendly as a modern tablet PC. In addition the cockpit is equipped with completely virtual and therefore slender switches controlled by infrared sensor technology.

Near Field Communication: Turning the cell phone into a key

In a very literal sense, the cell phone plays a key role in Continental’s research vehicle. Because both the vehicle and the cell phone are equipped with Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, they can exchange data over short distances in an absolutely secure and reliable fashion. Once the digital car key is saved on the SIM card the mobile phone becomes an intelligent door opener. However, the car key in the cell phone can do more than just unlock the door or start the engine once the driver is in the car. Continental is planning a web service that will make it possible to personalize and configure a wide range of vehicle options, and connect them to the key inside the mobile phone – from the favorite radio stations and preferred seat setting to the desired ambient lighting. What is more, a driver can access information on the vehicle computer anywhere, any time and, after meandering around town, even have the cell phone show the way back to the parked car. All these new features are based in the ever more capable body control modules. They are – in very different versions especially adjusted to the demands of the specific vehicle – responsible for not only all the basic functionalities like interior and exterior lighting, window operations but also for the advanced functionalities of passive start and entry systems or the new key technology based on the near field communication. The system enhances more than just vehicle comfort. With the new key technology, Continental also paves the way for innovative mobility concepts. Car sharing or rental car fleets become much more attractive, for instance, if customers are able to not only reserve cars on the Internet but also install the key on their cell phones with a simple mouse click. Furthermore, it is possible to combine the NFC technology with a wireless phone charger. The mobile phone can be placed below the infotainment system and charges itself without a physical docking station. The system will be demonstrated by Continental during IAA Frankfurt Motor Show 2011 in Frankfurt.

Peripheral information always visible

Once the door has been opened, Continental’s research vehicle will personally greet the driver. The flashing of a colorful welcoming sequence above the center stack is the driver’s first impression of one novel element for future Humane Machine Interfaces (HMI). For Continental this is more than just a multicolored gimmickry. Integrated into the top of the instrument panel, installed around the instrument, or the monitor on the center console, the new display category makes use of the driver’s peripheral vision as a new communications channel. Without making the driver take the eyes from the road, this intelligent surface can trigger key sign stimulus by color effect alone and thus transmit important information. Red signals in the corner of the driver’s eye can warn of dangers, while green ones can provide reassurance that the driving style is efficient. What is more, infotainment functions like a call sign can also be linked up to it.

Creative surfaces: Sensitive controls

Eye catcher in the cockpit of the research vehicle is the free-standing monitor on the center console. With its capacitive surface it marks the next generation of touch screens and introduces the user comfort of modern table PCs into the car. Instead of requiring a sufficient amount of pressure on the sensor surface, the sensitive Continental development requires only a light finger swipe. The highly responsive controls and brilliant, crystal clear image of the 7-inch display, makes way to completely new menu structures, animations and control concepts for vehicle electronics. Via the display Continental controls not only the classical vehicle and infotainment functions. Together with the cell phone integrated via the NFC link and a wireless phone battery charger, it also makes possible numerous innovative services like a Web browser, e-mail and news services or adaptive traffic reports and Internet searches.

Virtual buttons no more than skin-deep

Continental also integrated a new approach to eliminate conventional switches, knobs or slide controls. The corresponding control fields are instead merely printed on the surface and an infrared sensor scans the driver's finger positions. One advantage of this is that it creates new design possibilities. Controls can be placed directly on glass, metal consoles or wood applications even if the surfaces are curved. With this innovation Continental makes fewer demands on space in one of the vehicle’s most densely packed areas. Since the controls are now only ‘skin-deep’, so to speak, the electronic specialists’ research vehicle still offers enough room behind the air conditioning control console to accommodate a tailor-made slot for a cell phone, for example.

More than just a visionary research project

The research vehicle from Continental is still one of a kind. Nevertheless, its innovative components for the car of the future are more than just a vision. In his role as system integrator for the automotive industry Continental is already working together with other industry partner to realize the necessary service infrastructure for the Virtual Key. “Continental is looking forward to a future where drivers can decide if they want to use the traditional car key or feel the convenience of using a vehicle key within their NFC capable cell phone”, explains Andreas Wolf, Head of Continental’s Body & Security Business Unit. And with Continental even the classical car key is more than just a simple key. The latest generation of Passive Start and Entry systems are able to detect the driver long before he reaches the car door, thus enabling the exterior lighting to help the driver to enter the car and moving the seat already into the preferred position. With PASE the key authorizing the driver‘s right of access “speaks” to “its” vehicle via radio frequency. Starting the engine is as convenient as getting into the vehicle. An ignition key is no longer needed, as long as the remote key is on board, the vehicle can take off, started with the push of a button. System integration is not only about reducing costs, but also to enhance comfort in modern cars.

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