Right now, there's no single way for a vehicle to signal the switch between semi-autonomous and piloted driving modes. Continental believes it's built the solution.
Continental's Smart Control is an input device meant to help drivers ease through the transition between autonomous and manned driving. Located on the center console, it retracts into the center console and acts as a standard touchpad when the driver is in control of the vehicle.
When the vehicle reaches a road where it's capable of autonomous driving, the Smart Control will rise up from the center console and allow the driver to activate the self-driving function. The Smart Control provides haptic feedback and operates similar to a joystick when the vehicle takes control.
It also offers visual clues to the car's state. The control can light up to tell vehicle occupants who is in control of the vehicle. It can work in conjunction with the gauge cluster to help inform the driver when it's time to take control of the vehicle again, too.
"We call this cooperative automation," said Jennifer Wahnschaff, head of human-machine interfacing at Continental North America. "The vehicle performs the driving tasks, such as keeping to the correct lane and maintaining a safe follow distance to the surround traffic all without the driver's involvement. The driver has the option to initiate more complex driving tasks, such as passing maneuvers on the freeway, which the vehicle then performs automatically."
Continental has already put the Smart Control to task in the real world. Part of the supplier's Cruising Chauffeur development vehicles, Continental will refine the tech's functionality before it begins offering it to automakers. It can vary parts of the design to cater to specific automakers' tastes, because odds are every automaker won't want the exact same design.
When it comes time to bring SAE Level 4 and Level 5 cars to the public, mode transparency and safety will be paramount to their success, which is why Continental wants to make sure it gets all that nailed down before the shift change starts.