ZF’s Current Innovations Build for EV, AV Future

The Wrong-way Inhibit system prevents wrong-way driving. (ZF)

As the product-development landscape for light-vehicle electrification and automated-driving technologies begins to become less cluttered, it’s apparent that established automotive Tier 1 mega-suppliers are intent on merging their established competencies with whatever new product lines are required in the electrified, automated future. Whenever it comes.

This strategy was recently on display at a technology background event recently conducted in the U.S. by ZF. Long regarded for its transmission, driveline and chassis expertise, ZF showed journalists (and customers) the potential not just of prototypes of proposed systems, but also how the company intends to (or already does) merge current-generation components to create higher-level functionality—and value.

The vision: zero

Dual-motor actuation for ZF's Active Kinematics control as applied to the Porsche 911 since 2015 sets the foundation for future vehicle-dynamics enhancements for electric and automated-driving vehicles. (ZF)
The Integrated Brake Control module operates without need for engine vacuum and can deliver 1 g of braking force in 150 ms. (ZF)

Perhaps the most dramatic demonstration comes from ZF’s Vision Zero concept vehicle, a rolling showcase of in-development technologies combined with in-production components to express the “what if” goal of the Vision Zero: complete elimination of accidents and vehicle-borne emissions.

The Vision Zero concept rolls on ZF’s production modular semi-trailing-arm rear suspension that also integrates an electric-drive axle and rear-steering capability. It makes for a decidedly complete rear axle that could theoretically be “added” to virtually any light-vehicle design, ZF’s engineers expounded.

But the concept car also demonstrates ideas for next-generation vehicles that may be equipped with so-called “mid-level” automated-driving functionalities. There’s an intriguing Driver Distraction Assist system that monitors the driver’s state of attention, but ZF is going further with a new Interior Observation System (IOS) that uses a sophisticated 3D camera to augment information from other sensors to not only determine if the driver is attentive and prepared to take back control of the vehicle if it is in an automated-driving mode, but also can determine ascertain the position and size of other occupants—information that can be leveraged for a variety of other safety and convenience features.

Due to be production-ready by late 2021, IOS’ “visual data from the interior of the vehicle can be highly valuable from many standpoints,” said Norbert Kagerer, senior vice president, engineering for ZF’s occupant safety systems business. “The development of our 3D interior observation system leads to enhanced safety, convenience and helps support the evolution toward automated vehicles.”

At the event’s test track, ZF also offered another near-term driver-aid that dovetails with automated-driving features: Wrong-way Inhibit employs known road-mapping data to prevent the driver (or autonomous system) from entering a street or highway on which traffic is traveling head-on to the vehicle. On a small spur of the track that engineers had designated as having opposing-direction traffic, the test vehicle automatically came to a halt and refused further progress in that direction.

Steered by today

Vision Zero concept vehicle demonstrates technologies intended to eventually reduces accidents and emissions to zero. (ZF)

Equally exciting, though, are the expanding possibilities for rear-wheel steering as used by Vision Zero, but already in production today for the Porsche 911, Cadillac CT6 and other current-production vehicles. Active Kinematics Control (AKC) as ZF calls it, was fitted to a wild-child demonstrator vehicle that enabled, with the twirl of a dial, any proportion of front and rear steering. The vehicle could virtually “crab” sideways, for example, into a tight parking spot, while high levels of rear-steer also impart incredible agility in completing a slalom course.

And what the AKC system does for the maneuverability of a fullsize pickup an eye-opening window into what now can be done much less expensively and with more whole-vehicle integration than early, unsuccessful rear-steer systems for pickups.

Same for the Integated Brake Control (IBC) launched for the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck. The IBC modularizes “all major braking functions in a single control unit” that, crucially, is totally non-reliant on engine vacuum. It’s motor-driven actuator is “capable of brake pressure builds that translate into an up to one G of vehicle deceleration in less than 150 milliseconds for significantly reduced stopping distances,” ZF said. That kind of power and quick response will be critical to achieve coming regulatory performance standards for automated braking systems such as those recently adopted by Euro NCAP that simulate pedestrians and bicyclists in short reaction-time scenarios—protocols many expect U.S. regulators to emulate.