5 questions for... Andreas Mandl

Jul 16, 2021

Artificial intelligence sounds like science fiction - but it has already arrived in our everyday lives. The Head of Robotics and AI Products at Continental reports on the innovations in the agricultural and transportation sectors.

To many people artificial intelligence (AI) sounds like science fiction and the distant future – is it really still so far off?

Even if we are not always aware of it, we come across artificial intelligence fairly frequently in our daily lives. Whether that is personalized shopping recommendations from online retailers, weather forecasts, the guidance system for your robot vacuum cleaner or interactive discussions with Alexa. Continental, too, is similarly developing AI, including for automated driving or, in my area, in mobile robotics. For instance, our “Corriere” robot is already delivering meals in Singapore today.

To what extent can AI contribute to greater sustainability with delivery and agricultural robots, and where are they already being used?

In agriculture, our Contadino is contributing to sustainability. Here, AI is helping to operate autonomous robots in the fields. As a consequence, field work is no longer so dependent on the availability of the farmer or of a driver – both specialists who are hard to find. The comparatively small and light Contadino has the potential to reduce the extensive use of sprays and alleviate soil compaction. As such, it enables sustainable increases in yields of high-quality foods to be achieved.

Our delivery robots are able to handle direct shipments from consignors to recipients in urban environments. Not only does this avoid unnecessary detours and reduce CO2 emissions through the use of electric drives, but the trips themselves only become necessary if the AI-supported algorithm is able to identify needs or combine trips, so that empty runs are kept to a minimum. 

What are the basic requirements for automation to work?

The basic requirement for using autonomous robots which might come into contact with third parties is a legal framework, which in many cases is still not in place today. This leaves a high risk of liability open for the manufacturers and operators of autonomous systems. But we are seeing the first steps by the legislators to enable the introduction of robots. For instance, Continental has been given a trial license for its delivery robot Corriere to operate on selected public routes in Singapore, following successful testing. In addition to the legal requirements, depending on the use case there are also technical requirements in play. Let’s stick with the example of the last-mile delivery robot.  What is vital for successful parcel or food delivery is the available infrastructure. If the robot wants to cross the road at a demand-controlled set of traffic lights, the lights need to be equipped in such a way that the robot and lights can communicate with one another. If the delivery is being made within a building, then it needs to be fitted with automatically-opening doors and lifts, or else they must be capable of being operated contact-free. Cities like Singapore are striving to design their eco-system in such a way that infrastructure and technical progress go hand in hand. Unfortunately, other regions are still far off this. 

How do you feel about the thought that, in a few years’ time, you could potentially be accepting a parcel brought to your front door by a delivery robot?

Hopefully, it won’t take that long. The staffing shortages in this sector give me the impression that supplementing and supporting services by using an AI-controlled delivery robot would be very sensible.

What innovation would you like to see in ten years’ time at IAA MOBILITY which you have helped to develop?

I would be delighted to see a fully-integrated autonomous supply chain from vendor/manufacturer to recipient, including where that goes beyond city limits. It could then also incorporate agricultural produce.

IAA MOBILITY is transforming itself from a pure car show to an international mobility platform with four pillars: The Summit, the Conference, the “Blue Lane” and the downtown Munich Open Space. Under the slogan of “What will move us next”, it stands for the digital and climate-neutral mobility of the future. From 7 to 12 September 2021, the car, bike and tech industries come together at IAA MOBILITY in Munich.