ZF gets future-fit with tech-laden portfolio

by Sumantra B Barooah 17 Aug 2019


Advanced driver assistance tech like ZF's automated front collision avoidance system can be life-saving.

As the automobile gets increasingly technologically advanced, it can be called a computer on wheels. With an idea of enabling various parts of a vehicle to update themselves electronically, German automotive technology and components supplier ZF would like to make them more like mobile phones on wheels!

"The traditional practice involved getting the car to the showroom. However, a remote update system simply shortens this procedure a lot and allows the driver to get the update done whenever or wherever the driver wishes. The way it happens in today’s smartphones," Frank Lesbroussart, director, advanced software development, ZF, tells Autocar Professional.

ZF electric mobility

 ZF claims a 5 percent increase in driving range and 10 percent better acceleration over a single-stage drive system.

ZF envisions that in the near future, many components or systems in the car can be made over-the-air updatable. This will serve two key purposes — keep the vehicle's systems updated and also prevent recalls. Recalls cost the industry dearly. It is estimated that the auto industry spent $6 billion on recalls in 2016. "This (over-the-air updates or OTAs) would not only reduce the recall expenditure but will also make sure that the recalls are effective," says Lesbroussart. As traditionally mechanical systems like instrument cluster, suspension, steering systems and brakes get smart with electronics content, the scope of OTA also grows. This will also help the car fetch better resale value in the market.

The above is just one of the ideas that ZF is designing to live, grow and also shape the technological future. "Forthcoming electronics architectures in vehicles will work like high performing in-car computing centres. In such software-defined cars, software functions and features on vehicle system level and even reaching out to the cloud will play an important role,” says
Dr Dirk Walliser, head – Corporate R&D, ZF. He expects the value contribution of software in content may exceed 60 percent in future vehicles.

ZF has developed a slew of technologies and also invested in some firms to tap the global megatrends of electrification, autonomous driving, connected vehicles, and shared mobility. Along with that, it has also leveraged software to make the conventional vehicle more interesting.

Predictive chassis tech
ZF has combined its Vehicle Motion Control portfolio to create an innovative chassis concept. The predictive chassis brings the well-being of the occupants centre-stage: The Flying Carpet 2.0 helps liberate them from unpleasant vehicle movements and predictively helps to smooth out bends, bumps in the road, and potholes. This integrated system links advanced sensors, a smart control unit, and intelligent actuators that lay essential groundwork for the automated vehicles of the future.

ZF 2-speed eVD system

The compact electric drive concept brings together an 140kW e-motor, a two-stage switching element, and power electronics. 

Concentrating on work, reading, or watching a film in the car may have been technically possible, but still inconceivable to many people. If people are not paying attention to road and traffic conditions, every chassis movement is potentially a disruptive factor in comfort. One of the decisive benefits of fully autonomous vehicles is that people can use the time they spend in them productively on their laptop, or to relax.

“With our Flying Carpet 2.0, we have devised a chassis concept that is capable of controlling virtually all longitudinal, transverse and vertical movements of the vehicle,” says Dr Christoph Elbers, vice-president, Car Chassis Technology Development, ZF. During a demo ride, I could clearly feel the difference as the Flying Carpet 2.0 helps reduce the sensation from potholes, bumps in the road, tight bends, or abrupt braking manoeuvres.

The technical basis for this is the intelligent combination of various active and semi-active systems that predictively iron out adverse movements of the vehicle body. At the heart of this is the S-Motion fully active damping system that uses four actuators to adapt the suspension movements of each individual wheel as per  the driving situation and road surface features.

First 2-speed electric drive
A key highlight of ZF's Technology Day 2019 was a two-speed electric powertrain, which had its 'world premiere'. ZF has taken a modular approach for this concept which can be scaled up for use in difference vehicles. This e-drive for passenger cars claims to offer nearly five percent more driving range and 10 percent better acceleration compared to a conventional single-speed drive. 

8-speed hybrid transmission from ZF

The 8-speed auto transmission for hybrids allows for both 48V mild hybrids and plug-in hybrids with electric power of up to 160 kW.

The new two-speed electric drive for passenger cars integrates an advanced electric motor with a shift element and appropriate power electronics. The improvement in energy conversion efficiency compared to previous e-drives extends the driving range for each battery charge. The modular design of this unit can also be fine-tuned and scaled up for use in sports and performance vehicles.

With its new electric two-speed drive solution, ZF is introducing the next stage of electromobility to the passenger car segment. “Every percent of improvement in energy conversion efficiency translates into two percent more range,” says Bert Hellwig, Head of System House at ZF’s E-Mobility division. To increase the performance rating of the new electric axle drive system, the Tier 1 supplier developed a new electric motor with a maximum power rating of 140 kW paired with a two-stage shift element.

Vehicles with the new two-speed drive consume less energy, which in turn extends range by up to five percent when compared to a one-speed unit. Shifts take place at 70kph. By connecting to the vehicle’s CAN communication, it is also possible — if the customer so wishes — to devise other shift strategies, possibly linked to digital map material and GPS. The software in the drive can also be updated thanks to the network link to Cloud services via over-the-air updates.

For vehicle manufacturers, the new two-speed drive offers two options for using improved energy conversion efficiency. The OEM could either go for an extended range while retaining the same size of accumulator, or utilise a smaller accumulator.

Eight-speed transmission for hybrids
Traditionally, hybrid transmissions are built by taking an efficient automatic transmission and replacing the torque converter with an electric motor with a higher power density.

ZF has taken a different approach in designing its new generation eight-speed automatic transmission for hybridisation from the start. The modular construction system enables mild, full, and plug-in hybrid drives to achieve top performances between 24 and 160 kilowatts. The power electronics are no longer designed as a separate unit, but instead are fully integrated into the transmission housing without increasing the outer dimensions of the transmission. With a new, significantly smaller hydraulic control unit, ZF has created the required installation space for the electric and electronic components.

ZF estimates that at least 70 percent of all new vehicles in 2030 will still have an internal combustion engine. And there a plug-in hybrid drive could considerably lower the engine‘s CO2 emissions. This is contingent on electric range and electric power, both of which must allow for driving in everyday traffic with battery power only. ZF has laid the foundation for this with the plug-in model of the new generation eight-speed automatic transmission. The electric motor has a maximum power of 160 kilowatts and a continuous output of 80 kilowatts. The maximum torque of 450 Nm can be attained without actuating the internal combustion engine.

The new generation eight-speed automatic transmission is designed for lengthwise installation of the engine and transmission — a drive configuration that will be successful especially in the premium segment because it satisfies the high demand for comfortable operation and noise reduction.

ZF will begin manufacturing the new-generation eight-speed automatic transmission in Saarbrücken, Germany, in 2022. The market launch in China and the United States will follow shortly thereafter. BMW and FCA are the first set of customers.

Safer mobility
Like electrification, the trend of safety is also pushing suppliers like ZF to develop new solutions for safer mobility and, in the process, tap the benefits. A key one among them is the pre-crash protection system with an external side airbag, which is claimed to help reduce side impact penetration by up to 30 percent. ZF says it's the world's first such safety system. 

ZF pre crash airbag

It takes about 150 milliseconds for the pre-crash external airbag system to recognise the situation and deploy the airbag (280-400 litres depending on vehicle size), helping reduce side impact intrusion by up to 30 percent.

ZF's focus is to mitigate its consequences in the event a crash is inevitable. This applies to manual, assisted and automated driving. ZF Group's safety portfolio comprises sensors monitoring the vehicle exterior and interior, powerful signal processing, actuator systems for vehicle motion control and occupant safety systems. The pre-crash avoidance system takes approximately 150 milliseconds for decision and deployment resulting in up to 40 percent less consequences of an accident for the occupants. This is achieved by the external airbag creating an additional crumple zone in the door area between the A- and C-pillars. The system is only deployed if high-performance sensors detect an unavoidable side impact collision and activate the protection system in response.

In highly dynamic driving situations such as emergency braking or emergency avoidance manoeuvres, high-performance driver assistance systems come handy, to say the least. For example, ZF's ‘Automated Front Collision Avoidance’ system can automatically perform avoidance manoeuvres when manual braking or evasive action in the face of oncoming traffic fails to take place in time. Here, the Driver Assistant system evaluates whether emergency braking is still possible and whether there may be free space available for an evasive manoeuvre. I missed a heartbeat as the car swerved to avoid an oncoming car that suddenly appeared from behind a truck in my VR headset!

Tech for pleasant mobility
Comfort is a major factor for people to opt for travelling by cars. In this regard, ZF is working on ways to reduce the level of motion sickness that many suffer with experiences like dizziness, headaches, and nausea. The Tier 1 supplier is working with neuro-technologists from Germany’s Saarland region to investigate how to detect motion sickness at an early stage, and how to avoid a negative impact on the driving experience

ZF anti-motion sickness

The Motion Sickness Research Vehicle records a large number of physiological measuring data, camera data, and measurements relating to driving dynamics

A sense of dizziness and motion sickness can preclude any attempt to enjoy the ride or to work while still on the road. ZF is going beyond the purely vehicle-based approach. “Our goal is to identify individual instances of motion sickness and to devise measures that relate to the prevailing condition of the passenger,” says Florian Dauth, responsible in ZF Advanced Technology Development for activities in the field of Human Centered Vehicle Motion Control.

Motion sickness is caused by a discrepancy in perception: The balance organ in the inner ear senses a movement that is not confirmed by other sense organs such as the eyes. This is most likely to happen when a passenger is concentrating on a screen or a book. In this situation, the human body responds with a reaction that is in many ways similar to the response to poisoning. The symptoms range from a slight sense of unease to acute motion sickness.

In several studies, the researchers at ZF and SNNU analysed the physiological markers that show the highest correlation with the subjective perception of motion sickness by individuals. They also examined how this correlates to the driving dynamics of a vehicle. “Our Motion Sickness Research Vehicle enables us, with the help of a high performance computing platform, to record the large number of physiological measuring data, camera data, and measurements relating to driving dynamics. At the same time, the vehicle serves as a platform for the development and validation of algorithms,” explains Dauth.

Over more than 10,000km, the team of researchers gathered more than 50,000 gigabytes of physiological markers in the central and autonomous nervous system in the form of thermographic, imagery, and driving dynamic data. In this sector, this is a unique and multi-modal data resource on the subject of motion sickness. “It helps us to apply a scientific procedure to the task of gaining an understanding of the phenomenon of motion sickness, and is at the same time a basis for depicting AI-based algorithms,” states Dauth as he explains the development process.

ZF anti motion sickness

The Motion Sickness Research Vehicle as a platform for the development and validation of algorithms

Everyone reacts differently to vehicle movements, and possesses an individual sense of ride comfort. At ZF's tests, this fact is depicted in an algorithm based on ArtificiaI Intelligence methods that acquire knowledge of the physical reactions of each passenger, enabling a personalised profile to be created. As a consequence of this, individual data are obtained for every passenger in a vehicle, meaning that automated vehicles would actually be able to store the preferred driving style of each passenger.

Connected, smart fueling
With activities in automated vehicle development gaining pace, ZF Car eWallet, carved out of ZF last year, took up business to provide an open marketplace for mobility services. Designed to enhance the today's driving experience and enable the truly autonomous car of the future, Car eWallet and BayWa's fuel retail chain have successfully implemented ‘smart fueling’ as an initial use case.

ZF autonomous driving

While it's still unclear as to when Level 5 autonomous cars will ply on the road, ZF is developing a bouquet of autonomous driving technologies and also investing in start-ups building autonomous shuttles.

With integration into the vehicle on the one side and an easy connection of legacy infrastructure on the other, vehicles and service providers are able to process transactions directly, instantly and securely. The benefits offered are: seamless fueling or parking and transparent experience, independent of the car model or interface.

In early 2019, Car eWallet and BayWa joined hands to pilot the concept of smart fueling. With successful live tests in the field, BayWa gas stations are able to automatically facilitate transactions via the platform.

With a platform designed to be agnostic regarding hardware, software systems and user interfaces, Car eWallet plans to expand its service penetration and enable further service domains, including parking, later this year.

Digitalisation is on the rise. Technology that enhances efficiency, sustainability and convenience will be increasingly the key differentiator in the auto/mobility industry. However, there's a lack of absolute clarity about the future. ZF seems to be making all efforts to be ready for multiple scenarios. That includes electric bicycles as a micro-mobility solution on one hand and autonomous pods on the other. As transportation/automobiles show signs of losing favour, ZF, one of the Top 5 global suppliers, is trying to offer solutions to improve life with more appealing mobility solutions. The 'MobilityLifeBalance' theme launched at this year's Technology Day reflects just that.

(This article was first published in the July 15, 2019, issue of Autocar Professional)