ZF on mobility transition – part 2: Digitization

ZF on mobility transition – part 2: Digitization

Feature articles |
By Christoph Hammerschmidt

The electric drive as such is the cornerstone for CO2-free and energy-efficient mobility of the future. The first part of our two-part report on ZF’s strategy for the future dealt with how the company wants to successively bid farewell to combustion engine technology and switch its product range to electric mobility. But, as it soon becomes clear, for this friction-free mobility, the electric driveline is only the basic element, the rough diamond, so to speak, which still needs to be cut. Because the efficiency of the already highly efficient electric drive can also be further increased. The means to achieve this are digital. By using all internal sensors and external data sources, the driving strategy can be optimized and energy consumption further reduced. ZF speaks of an efficiency-focused design of Model Predictive Control: In addition to internal sensors such as radar and camera as well as V2X communication (which is regarded as a sensor by the system engineers), topology and traffic data also flow into the driving strategy. Vehicles can thus automatically reduce their speed before a tight bend, and the optimum speed can be set automatically on a route controlled by traffic lights.

New business models in mobility – such as car sharing or ride hailing – require not only continuous integration of the vehicle into an IT infrastructure, but also smart hardware, explained ZF’s Head of Development Dirk Walliser. The (naturally electric) driveline is also integrated into this model. This enables mobility providers to offer new functions – such as a temporary performance boost for a surcharge or the invoicing of the vehicle rental price according to engine power called up. 

Networking is not a one-way street. The data does not only flow from the cloud into the car. They also flow in the opposite direction. OEMs can thus obtain extensive material on the driving behavior of their customers, which is then fed back into the design of new vehicle models. They can use the data material to gain deep insights into the load on the various vehicle components and make appropriate optimizations. This data also enables them to adjust warranty conditions; insurance companies can offer behavior-based rates. “Our intelligent E-Axle is the prerequisite for all these services and features,” said Walliser.

ZF itself also networks its development department. To develop intelligent driving models, it uses the Intelligent Data Analysis functions of Microsoft Azure, “The keyword here is edge computing,” explained Walliser. In this context, this means that the vehicle computer is already pre-processing the huge data stocks. This model affects both ZF’s own activities and the architecture of future products. “By 2025, all our products will be online,” explained Walliser.

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