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July 18, 2016

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Home » Business » Autotalk Special

Test driver: ‘We just have to make sure there is a fall-back plan’

BEFORE a car can be given “intelligence” and “conscience,” people need to learn its language.

In the binary world construed by a car’s computer brain, everything has to be understood through processing of electronic signals.

Electronic throttles are ubiquitous. And starting from the premium segment, the handbrake is being replaced by electronic parking brake, the footbrake is linked to an electric circuit before a hydraulic pressure system, and the steering wheel is turning from electric assistance to move-by-wire. As things become less physical, it is a little scary to imagine there won’t even be straws to grasp if an invisible computer blanks out.

“That’s the change we are meant to go through with cars, just like we did with planes,” said a test driver at Continental Chassis and Safety at its newly opened center in Yancheng, Jiangsu Province. “An electronic system can help a car bring out performance that our own capabilities cannot. We just have to make sure there is a fall-back plan.”

Steer-by-wire was first introduced as an aerospace technology, and mass deployed in cars first by Infiniti.

Through electronic connections, the wheels can respond faster to driver inputs, and the steering wheel can be spared the physical feedback from road-generated disturbances. Removing the “feel of the road,” however, is not everyone’s cup of tea.

An electronic system comes in either for comfort or for safety, said Continental. Its latest electro-hydraulic braking system MK C1, which just made world debut on Alfa Romeo, is basically a simulator of a driver’s braking intentions captured by sensors. Going through all the trouble of replacing a physical connection with an electronic one means executing orders faster.

It takes only 100 millisecond for the system to build braking pressure, several times quicker than traditional hydraulic systems.

In a highway accident, it could be a life-or-death time element.

Continental sees autonomous driving as a driving chain of effects—sensing, planning and acting. In the field of sensing, there is much to be desired in simulating human faculties. But in the fields of planning and acting, a computer is a rational thinker and an efficient executor.

The electronic simulation rate of brake systems, where China has attained 80 percent, lays the foundation for systems like MK C1, Continental said. In a breakdown, 30 percent is for the anti-lock brake system and 50 percent is for electronic stability control. Both of them can be lifesavers when cars go out of manual control.

Official crash test ratings are carmaker’s biggest motivation to go electronic, said Continental’s Jourdan.

Regulators in developed countries are paying a lot of attention, while China is catching up in legislation. For example, a car having electronic stability control can earn an extra point on the C-NCAP crash test in China, but is not compulsory for passenger cars as it is in the US.

The function can re-orient a skidding car to prevent it from rolling. That is especially beneficial with SUVs, which have a higher center of gravity.


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