Swedish cars have a strong reputation for vehicle and passenger safety. Not only that, the entire country is considered a model of road traffic safety worldwide. Statistically, the year 2015 saw only 2.4 traffic deaths per 100,000 inhabitants in Sweden, whereas the global average was 17.4 deaths, with 10.4 in the U.S. and still 4.3 in Germany. Sweden’s strong safety record can be traced back to its politicians, who paved the way for improved safety early on. In 1997, the Swedish Parliament laid the foundation for Vision Zero in its transport policy. The goal was to reduce to zero the number of deaths and severe injuries resulting from traffic accidents. Other countries – Germany among them – followed Sweden’s lead as did organizations like the European Union. By the year 2050, the EU plans to reach almost “zero loss of life” through traffic accidents.
Ambitious goals of the ZF Group
ZF has laid its own stricter foundation for Vision Zero. The first thing it did was to narrow the original definition of Vision Zero. The long-term goal is to prevent all crashes, regardless of the type or severity. In addition, ZF has added a further and equally ambitious goal from the “zero” concept, namely a world in which cars and trucks no longer produce emissions. The only way to achieve both simultaneously is with all-electric and autonomous mobility.
Ultimately, human failure can only be ruled out when the computer is in control all the time everywhere. Currently, humans cause roughly 90 percent of all traffic accidents and are therefore primarily responsible for approx. 1.25 million traffic deaths annually around the world.
No doubt that the road toward the long-term goal of Vision Zero will be long and arduous. ZF developers have already completed the first important stage in this journey with advanced technologies and new approaches. „Our innovations focus on intelligent mechatronic systems that we offer from a single source and that contribute considerably to a mobile world without emissions and accidents,” says Dr. Stefan Sommer, CEO of ZF Friedrichshafen AG.
ZF has a unique position in the industry with its expertise and product portfolio to enable vehicles to see, think and act. The catchy phrase “ SEE – THINK – ACT ” summarizes concisely the company’s leading theme. For example, ZF can interconnect cameras and sensor systems, such as radar or lidar, thus providing a 360-degree panoramic view (See). In addition, ZF develops, produces and connects the switching centers of the vehicle using a network of electronic control units (Think). And naturally, the company can connect mechatronic systems in the drive, chassis or steering system to create modern drive functions (Act). This makes vehicles not only safer, but improves their efficiency.
Getting in shape for the future
Precisely because the vehicles of tomorrow will be operated electrically and autonomously, they are extremely complex, which is why ZF is working hard on rapidly closing existing knowledge and technology gaps. In spring 2015, the company therefore acquired TRW Automotive, a U.S.-based competitor that specializes in safety technology, and integrated it into the ZF Group as its Active and Passive Safety Technology Division. Today, this new division develops and produces intelligent braking systems, cameras and environmental sensors as well as occupant safety systems such as seatbelts and airbags. The Group’s activities reach considerably further back to the future field of hybrid technology. As early as 2008, ZF opened Europe’s first production facility for manufacturing hybrid modules for passenger cars in Schweinfurt. Since the beginning of 2016, a separate division, the E-Mobility Division, has been devoted more intensely than ever to the development and sale of hybrid modules, plug-in hybrid drives and all-electric drive systems.
At the same time, ZF has been advancing its digitalization strategy across all areas and divisions. Everywhere in the vehicle, electronics and electrification are transforming previously passive components into intelligent, active systems. Examples of this include intelligent damping systems or a cleverly combined front and rear axle steering system. At the peak of this development is artificial intelligence, or AI, which interconnects all the systems. In vehicles equipped with artificial intelligence, computers can independently gather experiences and learn from them. This capability is the key to autonomous driving . In a cooperative partnership with computer specialist Nvidia, ZF is in the process of getting the Nvidia supercomputer ready for use in the car.
ZF ProAI: The supercomputer for vehicles and industrial applications.
Achieving more through partnership
Nevertheless, the systems described above represent only a few of the puzzle pieces that make up the big picture, known as the “ ZF Vision Zero Ecosystem ”. ZF has been consistently expanding this system by entering into partnerships with highly specialized companies or by purchasing shares in technology companies that are relevant for ZF’s interests. „In 2016 alone, we announced the market launch, together with Nvidia, of ZF ProAI, the world’s first control unit with artificial intelligence and we invested in the company Ibeo, which is a lidar and software specialist. Not only that, we also acquired shares in the company Astyx, which is an ultra high-frequency radar manufacturer. Moreover, we entered into a strategic partnership with the Faurecia, a vehicle interior design specialist, to create the cockpit of the future,” says CEO Sommer in listing a few further examples, adding: „In addition, the strategic cooperative agreement entered into in June 2017 with Hella, a manufacturer of sensor technology, improved our position as a complete system supplier for modern assistant systems as well as for autonomous driving functions.”
With its all-electric powered innovation vehicle called the “ Vision Zero Vehicle ”, which ZF recently unveiled to the public, the company has demonstrated that the technology of the future can already make a difference today in terms of greater safety and efficiency . This family van comes with safety functions that represent a giant step on our long journey toward Vision Zero. This “carrier” of technology already conveys a sense of how the computer will relieve drivers by assuming control of the wheel.
The Vision Zero Vehicle is ZF’s current innovation prototype.