Autonomous delivery vehicle automates the “last mile”

Technology News |
By Christoph Hammerschmidt

The electrically driven delivery vehicle maneuvers independently through the city center, keeps the vehicle inside the lane even on streets without road markings, recognizes traffic lights as well as traffic signs, and reacts to sudden hazard situations. In addition, the ZF Innovation Van can recognize and avoid obstacles such as vehicles parked in the second row. The Follow Me function, a remote control via tablet, is particularly helpful for parcel delivery staff: If two addresses are so close to each other that the distance can be covered better on foot, the ZF Innovation Van follows the deliverer as if on a virtual leash. If there is no free parking space in front of an address, the parcel carrier can send the vehicle forwards to the next stop, where it automatically looks for a place to stop. This will prevent traffic jams by parking in the second row in the future.

The “last mile” of parcel logistics is an attractive field of application for many commercial operators. With the Innovation Van, ZF demonstrates how intelligent networking, autonomous driving, and a purely electric drive support parcel delivery services in mastering the demands of the future, especially the increasing delivery volumes and the wishes for individual delivery. At the same time, inner cities will be relieved of emissions and traffic. This approach is meeting with great interest. “We are already in concrete negotiations with several customers,” says Scheider. The ZF Innovation Van is based on the high-speed processor ZF ProAI (which in turn is based on Nvidia chips) and a sensor set consisting of camera, radar, and lidar sensors.

With two further innovations, ZF provides answers to central challenges for freight forwarders: the ZF Innovation Truck and the ZF Yard Tractor Terminal. These vehicles autonomously maneuver swap bodies or trailers and containers. The functions of the driverless maneuvering vehicles increase efficiency, speed, and environmental friendliness at depots, plant sites, and container ports. At the same time, they minimize accidents and damage. They also help to counter the constantly growing shortage of skilled workers in the logistics sector.

“Driverless means of transport and automated functions will play a key role above all on demarcated areas such as factory premises, freight forwarders or airports and seaports. In the foreseeable future, we will soon see more autonomous vehicles on demarcated areas than on public roads. The cost, safety, and efficiency advantages for the customer make the difference here,” explains ZF CEO Scheider.

ZF is also pushing the electrification of the driveline in other commercial vehicle segments. Over the next five years, the company plans to invest more than EUR 12 billion in research and development activities in the areas of e-mobility and autonomous driving. For the new CeTrax electric central drive, also suitable for buses and trucks, ZF has received the series order for a shunting vehicle. The electric axle drive system for light commercial vehicles will go into series production in mid-2019. The development of the Innovation Van is also expected to be so far advanced that the car could go into series production in two years.

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