Continental tech chief works toward more AI

Lehmann

One of the biggest challenges Kurt Lehmann faces as Continental’s corporate technology officer is how to bring vehicles into the Internet of Things. In an interview with Automotive News Europe Correspondent Olive Keogh, Lehmann, 55, also shared his views on how cars could benefit from the new vision of incorporating artificial intelligence and big data across vehicle operations.

Q: What are the biggest future challenges for connectivity?

A: The entire technology in — and beyond — the vehicle must be rethought to achieve holistic connectivity. It has to be seamless with the driver and with other vehicles and mobile devices, which gets complicated. The other big challenge is ensuring cybersecurity.

What is holistic connectivity?

Holistic connectivity is about more than just vehicle connectivity. While vehicle connectivity was once simply an add-on feature, it is now becoming a key technology for intelligent mobility of the future. This is why holistic connectivity concerns all aspects of a connected vehicle — from the electronics architecture in the vehicle, through the connection to the surroundings, to mobility services and their operation for the driver and user.

For us, it means creating a seamless online connection and transforming the entire vehicle into an open system.

What role will 5G play in this?

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As 5G becomes more popular it gives us more options, although we will never be completely done. I don’t think we really have a view yet as to what it could look like in 10 or 15 years. We just know that in the next few years there is going to be a rising expectation by drivers that they will have the same level of seamless connectivity in their cars as they do in their living rooms or offices, with the same level of privacy and security.

What are the big challenges around artificial intelligence?

We know it can achieve better performance than traditional methods of deterministic software. However, you can’t really explain that because [artificial] neural networks don’t give up their secrets. That’s a challenge because we’re dealing with safety-relevant applications.

There is also the challenge of the computational power that enables AI. That goes back to architecture and moves us toward server-level or service-oriented architectures that are well known to the IT people but new for electronics within a vehicle.

AI needs to be trusted and will take time to be proven, but I’m highly confident. It’s a question of time and gathering data. There are AI milestones and I think we’re on track to reach them, but we have to be careful about knee-jerk legislation in response to some of the events that have happened recently.

Does the rise of AI also have organizational applications for auto companies?

Yes, it’s not just for the product. It’s for the company overall when you start talking about things such as Industry 4.0 and AI-enabled processes. An organization needs to be unified so AI can be applied in a more consistent manner, and that is a bit of a challenge for a large traditional company like ours with 40,000 engineers.

Why is the uptake on EVs so slow, and is diesel dead?

The total cost of ownership and issues around infrastructure are still a problem with EVs. And, no, I don’t think diesel is dead because it has considerable advantages. We are going to continue working on exhaust gas cleaning technologies.

Part of your job is determining Continental’s future technological direction. What are the next big things?

Quantum computing and blockchain are two examples. Blockchain is a known technology, but we don’t know quite how to implement it yet. Where are we going to get the power to run blockchain, which is such a huge power draw? Biometrics is also an emerging area. For example, the car will be able to detect from facial recognition if the driver is getting tired and can vibrate the seat or if the driver is ill it can call the emergency services, or if your teenager is driving your car it can automatically limit the speed. Lots of cool stuff!