Continental tech chief; China ‘most advanced’ for testing self-drive

Continental tech chief; China ‘most advanced’ for testing self-drive

SINGAPORE ; Auto tech supplier Continental thinks the Chinese market is the most advanced in the world as regards testing self-driving cars on public roads.

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In an interview with Nikkei Asia, Gilles Mabire, chief technology officer of Germany-based Continental’s automotive group, said China’s efforts toward autonomous driving are “significantly faster” than the rest of the world. The CTO noted that China’s regulation of allowing autonomous vehicles on public roads is “one success factor” and that he “recommends” other markets to catch up.

“The Chinese market is for us one of the most important markets,” said Mabire, stressing that Europe and the U.S. should also focus on testing autonomous vehicles on public roads.

Continental is increasing investment in autonomous driving technology, supplying sensors, radar and lidar — core technologies for advanced driver assistance systems — to auto companies worldwide. The company is also investing heavily in developing AI, the brain of self-driving cars.

Continental has established numerous partnerships with Chinese automakers. “We want to be recognized in China to be a partner of choice,” the executive said, adding that the company “invests a lot in China.”

On the other hand, he noted that “protectionism is an area of concern” for Continental regarding the worsening technology conflict between the U.S. and China, two of the world’s largest auto markets.

“We need to be careful on the technologies, which start with the hardware components, software functions and data,” Mabire said.

Continental plans to address these issues by increasing investments by region. The executive said the company will “look for local for a more local approach, making sure that we will invest in the regions for the regions.”

As a result, Mabire said Continental will probably see “less cross opportunities between different regions,” adding that the company “would love that situation is different. … [But] we cannot change this. We need to think global, but act local.”

In China, tech giants like Baidu are leading the way in self-driving technology. The company has deployed driverless taxis equivalent to Level 4, meaning vehicles that can operate autonomously under certain conditions without driver oversight.

Regarding losing out in the field of artificial intelligence used in autonomous driving to Chinese tech companies that can collect more local data, Mabire said Continental can maintain competitiveness in the market as long as it has an “equal chance to compete, equal access to the data, and the same chance to be the supplier of local and international players.”

The executive noted it would take more time to commercialize Level 3 — vehicles that can operate autonomously but require driver oversight — and Level 4 in other markets.

As for Level 3 capability, Mabire said that from a “pure technology standpoint, we are there. We are able to bring that on the road.”

However, he said improving infrastructure for vehicle-to-vehicle communications, the availability of data used for autonomous driving, and strengthening safety regulations is necessary.

Mabire also said that Continental is speeding up development by training AI for autonomous driving in virtual space, stressing that the company has “made significant progress” in this area.



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