Driving into the future
R&D plays an important role in defining the future of the automotive industry. Here are the approaches of the industry leaders
For last few years, the auto industry is undergoing tremendous changes. On one hand, emission norms are changing rapidly, while on other emerging technologies are making their ways. In the midst these disruptions, the auto industry is hit by a downturn. However, the auto companies have continued their focus on the R&D. Speaking about the company’s efforts, Rajendra Petkar, CTO at Tata Motors says, “At Tata Motors, we understand the importance of a technology roadmap and the company has a structured an approach towards developing & implementing technologies. The technology planning, development & deployment is a cross functional process and consists of baked-in intelligence, voice from partners, customers, suppliers and global trends. The new technology development process is constituted with an overarching framework of innovation funnel, technology selection, absorption and adaptation which is closely knit with the product matrix. Technology roadmaps for the PV, CV & EV products are derived for short, medium and long term deployment strategies, mapped to the product portfolio.”
“That said, all our R&D efforts are made with an eye on our mission & vision mantra of which sustainability is an integral element. Sustainability for all i.e. the Environment, Economy & Society. To exemplify one of these, say economic sustainability; it’s noteworthy that in India while new technology and features are highly appreciated, they have a strong relation with cost consciousness which has been a perpetual challenge for OEMs. TML has led from the front to tackle this by offering frugal & differentiated technologies & features for mass markets,” he continues.
An auto components company Continental also has a focused approach towards R&D. Elaborating on the company’s efforts in this direction, Alexander Klotz, Head of Technical Center India, Continental Automotive says, “Continental has three major R&D hubs across the world, Romania, Mexico and Bengaluru. Technical Center India (TCI) in Bengaluru supports both global and local requirements, for two business areas – Autonomous Mobility and Safety and Vehicle Networking and Information. Continental’s R&D hubs are credited to develop several modern technologies that are defining the future of mobility such as cockpit high-performance computer, Natural 3D display, robot taxi CubE, and Transparent Hood, among others. “
“The R&D centre in India focuses on developing various technologies, ranging from, for the market solution like one channel ABS solutions for 2-wheelers, to highly sophisticated technologies for domains such as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), and Artificial Intelligence.
All R&D activities carried out in India have a high level of strategic importance for the corporation and are not confined to just product development or customization of existing solutions for the local market.
Continental is continually innovating and developing technologies for the mobility of the future. At Continental, we have a range of solutions that are future ready and can be deployed in the market based on demand such as, OcSM, eHorizon and PreviewESC Systems, and Remote Diagnostics, etc. At Continental, we assess both short-term and long-term requirements of the industry, monitoring trends, and closely work with our customers to provide the best possible,” Klotz added.
Areas of R&D
Detailing on the company’s efforts, Petkar mentions, “The present and future of the Automotive industry has been evolving around the mega trends of CESS (Connected, Electrified, Safe & Shared) mobility. Our focus continues towards building technology, capability, scale and capacities in R&D to be able to ride these emerging market trends while keeping a tab on the regulatory framework in India and incorporating the voice of our customers. Some of the crucial areas which can be of competitive advantage are:
• Fuel efficiency improvements for powertrain through parasitic loss reduction, electrification of accessories, etc.
• Indigenous development of technologies for electrification (battery packs, motors & controllers, fuel cell stacks).
• Safe by Design approach due to increasing consciousness and stringent regulatory framework.
• Next generation of Human Machine Interface (HMI) & cockpit experience through extensive use of Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning.
• Smart & light weight material and joining technologies.
• Digitisation of the engineering processes through design automation, higher use of virtual simulations and knowledge based engineering applications
On the other hand, Continental is designing and developing innovative technologies and intelligent systems for an automobile future in which life is protected, and injuries are prevented. Some of the crucial areas of R&D are automated driving, connected technologies, and safety technologies.
Speaking about it, Klotz says, “Safety becomes a crucial parameter when lives are involved. We cannot have a system that is 99% safe, and we need systems that are 100% reliable. When it comes to automated driving, improvement in radars, Lidars, camera technologies, ABS & ESC, redundant braking systems are helping in creating safer systems. Features like emergency braking, reverse maneuvering, driver monitoring, tire monitoring, blind spot information system could be introduced. While fully automated driving (AD) is still far, Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) is enabling the possibility of AD and gaining popularity among the end consumers.”
Connected vehicles is a focus area for Continental too. “Globally, connected vehicles are gaining traction, and the movement towards connected vehicles is prominent in India too. In the advanced stage of connectivity, vehicles exchange safety-critical information between the infrastructure and nearby cars, which has several safety beneficial factors. One such example is eHorizon, which assists the vehicle to see around the corner and beyond sensor vision. These technologies are already available and being mandated across Europe and other geographies, we must adapt the safety roadmap to Indian environmental and driving conditions
Klotz further elaborated on the examples of the outcomes of their R&D efforts. He said, “In CES 2020, we demonstrated various technologies that are relevant to the future - some of which have won awards as well:
Transparent Hood: The “transparent hood” function is the first to be released on the market worldwide. It makes the area under the hood visible and allows the driver to see terrain and obstacles that would otherwise not be visible. The transparent hood is based on Continental’s Surround View system, which consists of four satellite cameras and an electronic control unit. An intelligent image processing algorithm reconstructs the image below the vehicle and inserts this image exactly into the surround-view displayed to the driver. Continental received the CES 2020 Innovation Award in the product category Vehicle Intelligence and Transportation for this innovative technology.
Natural 3D Centerstack display: Continental is demonstrating the next generation of the Natural 3D Display, bringing the technology to the center of the cockpit as a key element of human-machine interaction for the first time. The Natural 3D Centerstack display also offers drivers and passengers a touch function. Introduced in 2019, the 3D Lightfield technology enables all passengers in the vehicle to enjoy a 3D experience without special glasses or head tracker cameras. Three-dimensional highlighting, accentuation, and complex lighting effects convey information conveniently and safely.
Contact Sensor System (CoSSy): The new Contact Sensor System (CoSSy) detects contact between a vehicle and a person or object at cutting speed. CoSSy helps to make applications like automated parking safer. The recording of sound signals by CoSSy can be used to detect collision impact at low speed so that the vehicle can be stopped immediately. Once installed, the CoSSy sensor signals can support many other applications, such as detection of vandalism (scratching), slow parking knocks, recognition of the road condition, driver identification by voice, or detection of approaching emergency vehicles.
Speakerless Audio: At CES 2020, Continental showcased new cooperation for its loudspeaker-free audio system for the automotive interior, which fills vehicles with lifelike three-dimensional sound. Cooperation combines two premium audio concepts. The innovative Ac2ated Sound concept eliminates the need for conventional speakers by causing existing surfaces in the vehicle to vibrate.
Tata Motors’ indigenous efforts have also been well acclaimed. Speaking about it, Petkar said, “Tata Motors’ has been for past few years leading the safety quotient in the passenger car space. Tata Motors’ was the first Indian OEM to receive a 5-star safety rating for the Nexon SUV from Global NCAP in December 2018. We have also received 5-star safety rating for Altroz. Furthermore, Tiago and Tigor have received 4-star rating from Global NCAP in January 2020. With this we have established our strategy of “Safety is for all & not a privilege for few.” Some of the other examples are:
• TML unveiled the Nexon EV, the country’s first indigenously developed Electric SUV using the state of the art Ziptron technology in December 2019. It went on to become India’s highest selling electric car in April 2020: Outselling the competition.
• Widely acclaimed display of “Future of TML” through 4 global product unveils, 1 commercial launch and 26 BSVI ready vehicles at the Auto Expo 2020 during which we bagged 3 awards from Car and Bike Auto Expo Excellence Awards (February 2020) in areas of Best Design, Best CV Pavilion & Facebook People’s Choice Best Pavilion awards.
• Innovation Award 2019 by Clarivate Analytics (formerly known as Thomson Reuters) - TML received an honor of being amongst the ‘Top 15 Innovative Companies in India’ during the ‘Innovation Awards 2019’ under ‘Corporation – Automobiles’ category. This is the fourth time that we have bagged the Innovation award while progressing from amongst the ‘Top 50’ to ‘Top 15’ last year.
Impact of the pandemic
Has the pandemic changed the course of innovation? Hinting the upcoming trend, Klotz mentioned, “Over the past few years, the trend has been towards autonomous mobility. Many countries were already testing and using autonomous vehicles in a very small number for dedicated usage. COVID-19 has given rise to several questions about human contact, continuity of operations, etc. It could create further interest in autonomous mobility. The step towards autonomous asks for more environmental awareness of the car. The car should be able to identify various objects on the road, identify signs, communicate with other vehicles and surroundings, maneuver easily, etc. All this at high speed and with significant accuracy. To achieve the same, the sensors – Lidar, radar, and camera are getting higher in numbers. These sensors are primarily heightening the situational awareness, the happenings outside the vehicle are dramatically different from the basic functions of ADAS (Advanced Driving Assisted Systems) like emergency braking. Continental is using its full innovative power to drive forward this trend and developing intelligent technologies. Thus, contributing to more safety, more convenience, and more efficient mobility.
Petkar assesses the situation differently. He answered by saying, “The ongoing pandemic is making businesses ponder on additional steps to ensure safety. The fear of the virus is driving people to prefer their own space/vehicle to commute rather than shared mobility. This has been a short-term trend in few parts of the world but in these times, safety has become the consumers’ utmost priority, this is likely to continue. We believe that collaboration across industries including OEMs, Tier 1, start-ups and other technology partners will bring in new features and applications which will enable ‘health & wellness monitoring’ plus mitigate the risks caused due to a pandemic. Covid-19 has changed the way of life and it is important to think about what the current and future customers need. If companies can achieve that, they will be future ready.”