Continental Ensures Better Road Safety with New Control Elements

To help the driver's eyes return to the road more quickly, Continental has integrated haptic signals into touch-sensitive surfaces. At the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show, the company will show how consumer electronics and infotainment are becoming more and more intertwined in vehicles.

Jan 09, 2012, 11:54 ET from Continental

LAS VEGAS, Jan. 9, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Consumer Electronics Show -- Modern vehicles are supporting motorists with a growing number of new functions. In this context, Continental, the international automotive supplier, is researching more intuitive, safer and simple control options for motorists. The latest development is the integration of haptic feedback into touch-sensitive surfaces. By this means, the driver is able to sense directly whether he has actually activated a "touch element" after touching it. With its innovations, Continental is supporting automotive manufacturers all over the world with the development of modern human-machine interfaces (HMI). The first series orders underline the promising future of this technology, and at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January 2012, Continental will show several applications for touch elements that provide direct feedback to users.

Gaining ground: Touch-sensitive surfaces in cars

Touchscreen smartphones are enjoying increasing popularity as more and more people rely on their simple and intuitive operability. Motorists are also calling for more touch-sensitive surfaces in cars. Products such as secondary displays, large-scale displays in the central console and touchpads are ideal for facilitating driver interaction via adapted and context-related presentation of information. As early as 2014, Continental expects one in six new cars registered in Western Europe, the USA and Japan to be fitted with touchscreens.

More attention to traffic thanks to haptic feedback

"However, it is not possible to simply transfer the concept of touch-sensitive surface operations from the field of consumer electronics into a car exactly as it is," explains Guido Meier-Arendt, an HMI expert at Continental. "Up to now, feedback was received directly through classic control elements such as rotary switches or switches and buttons, the eyes, ears and above all the operating hand whereas touch-sensitive displays in cars were disregarded as an important feedback means." To make the operation of touch elements even safer and more effective for motorists – whose primary task is, after all, to keep their eyes on the road – Continental is focusing on tactile (i.e. haptic) feedback from touch-sensitive surfaces. For example, slight counter-pressure from the display on the driver's finger indicates that an operating step has been performed successfully, making it unnecessary for the driver to look at the screen again.

For the haptic feedback, Continental calculates the exact position of the finger in the touch process. Touch sensors on a purely electrical (capacitive), electromechanical (resistive) or optical (via an infra-red sensor) basis perform this task. They reliably locate the position of the finger to less than a millimeter deviation. Depending on the position identified, a decision is made on how haptic feedback is to be provided. Whether a touch element is actually activated also depends on the operating force, which is calculated via further sensors or through signal processing steps on the basis of existing data. The actuators needed to carry out mechanical movements can generate various types of haptics information within a frequency range of up to 200 hertz and more.

Feedback can be provided in forms ranging from slight counter-pressure to vibration, depending on the respective control concept. This allows different feedback strategies to be implemented which are tailored to the manufacturers' requirements. Series of tests have shown that haptic feedback is accepted much better by motorists than visual or acoustic signals. Continental has also made use of this principle in its Accelerator Force Feedback Pedal (AFFP). Thanks to haptics, the world's first active gas pedal in serial production offers a new possibility to provide imminent danger warnings to motorists directly through the feet, for example.

Ready for serial production – for more safety and pleasure to use

Continental has completed the basic pre-development phase and is now in a position to work on specific implementation for new vehicle models together with automotive manufacturers. "Let's say that the combination of touch-sensitive surfaces and haptic feedback is a tangible innovation, that will provide even better support for motorists," declares Eelco Spoelder, Head of the Instrumentation & Driver HMI division. "Our customers can use this technology to improve safety for passengers, but also to create a kind of magic sensation for the operator due to the haptic feedback."

Continental will showcase a version of this technology during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, January 8-13, 2012. Continental will host a private hospitality salon during the event, and executives will be on hand for on-site interviews to share additional information about these and other Continental technologies.

With sales of EUR 26 billion in 2010, Continental is among the leading automotive suppliers worldwide. As a supplier of brake systems, systems and components for powertrains and chassis, instrumentation, infotainment solutions, vehicle electronics, tires and technical elastomers, Continental contributes to enhanced driving safety and global climate protection. Continental is also an expert partner in networked automobile communication. Continental currently has approximately 164,000 employees in 45 countries.

SOURCE Continental