ADAS Over the Horizon

Continental’s new ADAS boss shines a lidar on next steps in automated-driving technology.

VP Frank Petznick: “In many cases the OEMs do not want to have a standardized solution. ADAS performance and functionality is a USP.”

Increasing data processing power, sensor fusion, the role of lidar, artificial intelligence and SAE’s six levels of driving automation are key factors shaping the future direction of ADAS (advanced driver-assistance systems), said Frank Petznick, the new head of Continental’s ADAS business unit. An electrical engineer and industry veteran, Petznick is an expert in electronics and sensors who started his career at Volkswagen and most recently served on Hella’s Electronics Executive Board. In an interview with SAE Media at the 2022 IAA in Munich, he detailed the dynamics of ADAS development and how it aligns with that of vehicle autonomy.

“ADAS technology is evolving very quickly,” Petznick asserted. Referencing the SAE J3016 standard, he described how automakers are enhancing Level 2 (the foundation of ADAS) to create their own unofficial “Level 2 Plus-Plus-Plus – or as some Asian markets call it, ‘Level 2-99’,” he said. Increasingly, OEMs there are “putting various [SAE] Level 3 functions under the umbrella of Level 2 ADAS because it has different implications for the driver and for the automaker’s liability for whatever happens in the vehicle. Those OEMs are, in effect, ‘test driving’ Level 3 functions while under the protection of Level 2,” Petznick explained. This helps them gain experience in their Level 4 autonomous tech developments.

Level 3 and lidar

Level 3, which depends on the human driver rapidly and safely taking back control of the vehicle, is a controversial topic among industry engineers. Many say managing the vehicle-to-driver handoff in complete safety is an exceedingly difficult challenge. Petznick’s personal view is Level 3 does not provide much value-add to the drive experience.

“It gives you a bit more autonomy in certain situations,” he emphasized. “But the driver is still required to take over as soon as the warning comes. You have a bit more time and safety around that warning but it’s still not autonomous driving.” He reckons that OEMs will continue to push their Level 2 systems to include some Level 3 functions then eventually jump to Level 4 in passenger vehicles. “But not full Level 4 at first – maybe start with Level 4 parking and Level 4 highway operation, then add Level 4 for urban driving,” he said.

ADAS and AV are two different paths, he said. “We at Conti want to be part of both, because of what we can learn even in a geofenced area, and the data we can collect and bring into the pass-car industry.”

And lidar also will play a role in both ADAS and AV, Petznick said. It will be part of AVs and high-performance lidar “could be a plus in automated systems in certain markets” such as in Germany, with its high-speed autobahns.

Continental is integrating the high-resolution, long-range lidar of tech partner AEye into its full-sensor-stack solution. The aim is to offer OEMs a full-stack automotive-grade system for enhanced Level 2 up to Level 4 ADAS and AV applications. “Our customers can tailor the sensor’s field of view and resolution for different use cases with software,” Petznick said.

Scaled down, more cost-efficient lidars engineered for dedicated use cases such as trucking, where extended braking distances rather than high velocities are a focus, are in big demand. As a leader in automotive radar, Conti has demonstrated the ability to improve sensor performance while steadily reducing cost, Petznick said. “Today, we have six or more radars on a new vehicle; each costs 20 to 30 euros, let’s say. Five years ago, we could not have imagined that rate of cost reduction. If volume comes, the cost of lidar will go down rapidly; I’m confident of that.”

Toward the 3-D model

Conti is in the vanguard of developing and deploying in-vehicle servers – a technology shift that Petznick said is vital to delivering more capable ADAS. “More compute power will be needed going forward, to handle the ever-growing volume of data the vehicle generates and receives,” he said. Neural networks and artificial intelligence (AI) are a “game-changer” that demand automotive-grade high-performance computers and a new generation of flexible server architectures. Recently Continental formed a joint venture with Chinese AI specialist Horizon Robotics to develop hardware and software.

“We have to carefully bring the high-performance computers into the automotive environment, through upfront collaboration with those companies. It would be a mistake to think we can simply make those computers ‘fit’ the automotive use case,” he asserted. Greater processing power is a key enabler for more sophisticated ADAS systems with multiple cameras, radars, lidars and other sensors. “You can pre-fuse them," he said, "but you still have a lot of data to process. It’s all about creating a full, 3-D environmental model that enables the vehicle and its driver to ‘know’ what is surrounding them” and to predict what other vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, animals, etc., that share the environment are going to do in real time.

Across a spectrum of the latest new vehicles, ADAS system performance often differs not only between OEMs but also among different vehicles of the same OEM. But that doesn’t mean the industry will standardize its functionality in this space, Petznick said. “In some areas, yes, there will be increasing familiarity to drivers across vehicle lines,” he predicted. “But I think in many cases the OEMs do not want to have a standardized solution. ADAS performance and functionality is a USP [unique selling proposition] that can differentiate vehicles in the marketplace.”

Looking at ADAS technology development in the next five years, Petznick said he is most excited about the potential for sensor fusion: “Creating the virtual model, the full 3-D world around the vehicle in which the driver knows exactly what’s going on in 360 degrees, in all driving scenarios and weather conditions.” He also is bullish on leveraging ADAS, the cloud, and Conti’s advanced safety systems expertise. “Using those data to pre-arm your entire passive and active safety system is a natural connection with ADAS and, in my view, is a logical step.”

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