Hey, HELLA: what exactly do you guys have to do with autonomous driving?


Lots of things! HELLA plays a key role in implementing the next development stages in mobility including, of course, the challenge of autonomous driving. And the part our company plays is not only that of a component supplier. You may already know this: we certainly do much more than just excellent vehicle lighting! As a technology developer, we specifically bundle together, amongst many other things, sensor and data processing solutions and thus also drive forward the trends shaping the future - such as automated and autonomous driving. How do we do that? We'll be happy to tell you...

How do the development departments at HELLA actually decide where to generate innovation?

Automated and autonomous driving, the connected car, e-mobility - these are Megatrends, on which HELLA is also focusing. And by the way: you can read about the different levels of autonomous driving here. So how do we decide which topic to tackle? In the best case, we specifically select the issues that help YOU most and to which WE can best contribute.

Taking the big picture into account as they develop new ideas

"A central thrust for us is that, on the one hand, we develop individual key components but, on the other, we always align this development with the architectures and needs of complex functions and features. In this way, we can also offer our customers specific application cases, the so-called use cases." Carsten Roch, Head of the Assisted and Automated Driving Division at HELLA.

In a large company, how do you lay the foundations for getting started with the job of innovation?

So, to be well positioned here, we have set a definite course by carrying out quite a bit of groundwork: under the umbrella of HELLA, many years of electronics expertise and around 20 years of experience in radar sensors are combined with the expertise of young companies such as HELLA Aglaia. This subsidiary with over 400 employees is one of the world's leading suppliers of intelligent sensor systems. Amongst other things, HELLA Aglaia develops software solutions to capture environmental data and then to make it usable and useful.

What are currently the most important innovation subjects for HELLA in the field of automated driving?

A classic example is automated parking in multi-storey car parks using the valet parking function. Here, the vehicle autonomously covers a short distance from a certain transfer point to the parking space - it sounds simple, but it is actually technologically complex. A large number of different and sometimes complementary technologies are required: radar sensors, laser scanners and camera software, structure-borne sound sensors and environmental data.
We have been developing new radar technologies since the turn of the millennium. For classic rear-end functions such as blind spot detection or lane change assistant, a sensor, for example, with 24 GHz transmission frequency was developed. This went into series production in 2006. Today HELLA is the world market leader in the field of rear applications, having produced 20 million 24 GHz sensors.


But then we went one better: when compared to 24 GHz technology, our 77 GHz radar sensors operate at more than three times the transmission frequency and they have about five times the available bandwidth. While a 24 GHz sensor perceives two objects that are less than 1.5m apart as a single object, a 77 GHz sensor can even distinguish between vehicles that are only 30cm apart.


In addition, the sensor enables 360° perception of the area around the vehicle. And all this forms a sturdy foundation on which more advanced technologies of the future can be built. This total environment perception of a vehicle is based on laser beams. That is the reason why HELLA is focusing on developing LiDAR sensor technology and LiDAR system development for driver assistance systems and automated driving in a strategic partnership with the Californian start-up AEye.

In other words: you can help us to teach vehicles see digitally?

But it's not only about seeing! Our developers have, for example, built a structure-borne sound sensor, the piezoelectric sensor "SHAKE", for perceiving the extremely close-up range, a sensor which can also serve as an emergency stop assistant in a valet parking scenario. It converts even minimal contact with the vehicle shell into electrical signals. This gives the vehicle a sense of touch! In the same way, it could also monitor the condition of the road. At a higher level of autonomous driving it would, for example, determine the amount of water on a rain-soaked road.


"In order to bring automated driving features that are both sophisticated and safe onto the roads, you need various sensors that interact and supplement one another as complementary technologies. A radar, for example, captures the surroundings differently from the way in which a front camera operates. So we always need redundant multi-sensor architectures."
Lars-Peter Becker, programme manager for automated driving at HELLA Aglaia in Berlin


Our developers are also concerned with system safety: only with redundant, i.e. multiple, systems can this be achieved for autonomous driving functions. Here is an example: if a sensor provides significantly differing information, the system recognises that something is wrong and takes action.

So what do such innovations actually mean for the automotive industry as a whole?

One thing is certain - the higher the level of automation, the more complex the features and functions become. This means that at the end of the day the demands placed on sensors and their data processing systems also increase. A central computer with very high computing power will therefore be located at the central hub.


"Ultimately, it is a software that bundles sensor data, evaluates it and then, on such a basis, uses it to implement automated driving features. As a result, value creation in the automotive industry is gradually shifting. The automotive future is going to be largely written by programmers and software developers." Lars-Peter Becker, Programme Manager for Automated Driving, HELLA Aglaia.


It's good that you stuck around this long. It makes us think that you might also be interested in "The Future of Driving - The 5 features your car really needs"! And our Four megatrends of the automotive industry come on top of all this!


By the way: the article "Knowledge for the future" by Uschi Winkler in the workshop magazine MATRIX, issue 2/19, served as the basis for this topic. All photos courtesy of MATRIX.