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Controlled by Electronics: Continental Launched Its First Driverless Vehicle 50 Years Ago


Middle East, 8 October 2018. As far back as 50 years ago, Continental was already doing groundbreaking work in preparing for the future of mobility. In 1968, Continental’s first electronically controlled driverless car was taken to the Contidrom test track in northern Germany to determine how tyres could be tested precisely using scientific methods under programmed conditions. However, the Continental engineers were pushing the limits of what was technically possible at the time and, in a sense, were paving the way for the future of driving.


“We salute the inventive pioneering engineers who developed a driverless car five decades ago. In doing so, they achieved a significant technological milestone in our corporate history, which boasts a wealth of innovations,” said Continental CEO Dr. Elmar Degenhart as he honoured the accomplishments of those former Continental employees. “The driverless car of 1968 represents an ongoing common objective at Continental, then a tyre manufacturer and now a technology company, which is ensuring safe, clean and intelligent mobility in the future.”


The new systems for the driverless test vehicle were developed for Continental by Siemens, Westinghouse and researchers at the technical universities of Munich and Darmstadt. The vehicle was guided by a wire on the road surface. The electronics system in the car used sensors to detect whether it was still on track and automatically adjusted the steering accordingly, enabling precision electronic control.

Continental Launched Its First Driverless Vehicle 50 Years Ago

Driverless technology in 1968


In the Mercedes-Benz 250 Automatic (also known as the “Stroke Eight”), Continental engineers installed a range of equipment including electro-mechanical steering, an electro-mechanical throttle regulator and a radio system for reporting measurements – cutting-edge technology at the time. In addition, the bumpers were adorned with an array of antennas, with the control electronics and an electro-pneumatic braking system housed in the trunk. Right from the very first driverless vehicle at Continental, development activities were focused on safety in the event of an accident.


Via the wire to the car, the control station next to the test track sent commands telling it to brake, accelerate or sound the horn, with the aim of ruling out the possibility of human influence resulted in a considerable increase in the accuracy of the measurements.


The engineers recorded the car losing the wire and come to a halt. Engineers also placed a sheet of glass built into the track, and placed a high-speed camera underneath that was capable of taking 10,000 photographs per second. The goal was to see how the blocks in the tread behaved when the car was in motion. 

The electronically controlled vehicle at the Continental Contidrom

At numerous events between 1968 and 1974, the driverless e-car was one of the main attractions for visitors to the Contidrom. Despite all the innovations, the objective of the automated vehicle test for tyre development was not yet achievable at that time.


Following numerous modifications and thousands of test runs, the Mercedes Benz 250 Automatic was decommissioned in 1974. It continues to reel off laps on the Internet.


From a driverless tyre test to automated driving for the future


Continental’s goal is seamless, automated mobility without accidents in all variations. To that end, the technology company is currently working on getting highly automated driving ready for production and, at the same time, on the systems necessary to enable fully automated driving on the autobahn by 2025. Highly automated autobahn driving in itself is designed to allow car drivers to temporarily focus their minds on activities other than driving.


Continental also believes in autonomous driving. The technology company is testing components and systems for driverless robo-taxis in cities with its Continental Urban Mobility Experience (CUbE) test platform. At the same time, Continental is already pursuing the concept of developing vehicle systems for autonomous vehicle fleets in the distant future. If Continental’s plans come to fruition, the BEE (Balanced Economy and Ecology mobility concept) will one day form a swarm of autonomous vehicles of various sizes and configurations, all powered by electricity.

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New automated tyre test vehicle featuring Continental technology to be deployed in Texas


Fifty years after the e-car blazed a trail at the Contidrom, Continental is now working on the next generation of test systems for reliable, efficient and reproducible tyre tests in real-life conditions.


The new driverless tyre test vehicle for the test facility in the USA has been adapted to suit the requirements of the tyre test on the basis of the Cruising Chauffeur system developed for highways by Continental. Whereas with the Cruising Chauffeur, development has focused primarily on assisting the driver with automated driving on autobahn routes. The tyre test vehicles are designed to drive autonomously along the test track. The medium-term plan is for multiple autonomous vehicles to cruise around the track at the same time, all monitored from a control centre. The main goal is the optimised endurance test on the different test tracks.


These days, in scorching heat and extreme environmental conditions, test drivers have to pilot the vehicles hundreds of miles to identify potential weaknesses in new tyre designs and rubber compounds. Thanks to automation and the ability to control vehicles down to the very last detail, not only should it be easier to compare results, but it should also be possible to optimise the way in which the vehicles drive on the track and thereby to minimise wear on the track itself.