Electric mobility is being given impetus through the interest being shown by cities and municipalities in electric people movers to supplement or replace elements of their existing public transport systems.
e.Go, which plans to start producing people movers in partnership with ZF in late 2019, is already predicting a five-digit production volume based on the interest being shown in the vehicle. ZF is using the eGo as a test-bed for its own technologies, according to chief executive officer Wolf-Henning Scheider. This will fast-track the rollout of the technology to existing OEMs and Tiers. Scheider also see applications for the vehicle in the logistics sector, as it is designed for autonomous operation.
The vehicle will be driven by a 60 kWh battery and will have a range of up to 150 kilometers, according to e.Go’s Torsten Sauren. While the mover can attain a speed of 70 km/h, in urban areas it is expected to average 18 km/h – the speed at which a public transit bus travels. Local public transport is one of the main areas of application for the vehicle concept. “The people mover is superbly suited for conveying passengers from the outskirts of the cities,” states Sauren.
Automotive Industries (AI) asked Torsten Gollewski, ZF Senior Vice President Advanced Engineering, how the company is positioning itself for automated driving and electromobility.
Gollewski: ZF has a very good product portfolio in both areas. We have electric drives in series production already, and we have hybrid transmissions. Especially in mid-range and luxury vehicles, hybrid drives have become the new standard drive. But we are also working intensively on solutions for other applications. We are also investing heavily in advanced engineering for the electro drivetrain technologies of the future.
If you look at autonomous driving, we currently have very good sensor technology. We are working on new radar technologies. We have a solid-state 3D LiDAR system together with IBEO which is also ahead of the competition and we have the most powerful computing platform with the ZF ProAI able to calculate artificial intelligence algorithms. Therefore, we are very well prepared from the perspective of our product portfolio.
AI: What benefits do autonomous systems offer commercial vehicles?
Gollewski: There are different steps where you can generate a lot of benefit from autonomous driving in logistics and transportation. An automated freight yard with autonomous operations in certain areas will provide huge benefits. These include minimizing damage to the vehicle and to cargo by either providing greater driver support or by taking the driver out of the cab. For our customers, therefore, there is already a strong business case for automation.
Another factor is that, while there is an exponential growth in demand for logistics services, there is also an exponential decrease in the number of drivers. Automated driving offers a solution. Out on the highway we see a huge potential for convoys of autonomous trucks where you have hub to hub logistics.
AI: What is your strategy towards Next Generation Mobility?
Gollewski: The shift towards transport as the provision of mobility is a big market opportunity for autonomous driving. That is the reason why we are investing in the joint venture with e.GO. Our objective is to be one of the first to open up totally new possibilities for public transportation by providing more flexibility and better scalability for the fleet operators.
AI: What systems do you supply for the vehicle?
Gollewski: The whole AD architecture system from ZF is in the people mover. This includes camera, LiDAR and radar technology. We provide ProAI control box. Later we will also provide further developments of ProAI, which means we will have Level 4 braking and steering. In addition to providing the full vehicle motion control ZF will provide the safety technology. We also supply nearly the whole electric drivetrain for the e.GO Mover. In all, we have packed the full range of system competences from ZF for electrified powertrains, safety, vehicle motion control and autonomous driving into the e.GO People Mover.
AI: Which technological fields do you target with your portfolio of products and competencies?
Gollewski: Our strategy is to invest in advanced engineering. We also have unique technology for integrated safety systems. Look, for example, at autonomous driving concept cars in which the occupant can sleep. For them to move beyond the concept stage they will have to be able to share the road with a mixed fleet of vehicles for a long time. For such visionary concepts we need new occupant safety systems. There are few companies which can match ZF’s technology and competency in this field. Occupant safety systems for real world driving will need a range of external sensors feeding information into the controller. That is where we will be focusing our efforts.
AI: How is ZF’s IoT Cloud based solution enabling networking between the various systems?
Gollewski: Let’s start with the important industrial applications. We connect components into a cloud where our software makes predictive maintenance decisions, and therefore extending a machine or tool’s lifetime or the operability of the system.
We also provide predictive maintenance to operators of truck fleets, which improves the reliability of the logistics. And of course, you can have the same in the car. Autonomous driving is impossible without connectivity. We have to download around 1 terabyte of data per hour in order to collect all the data to develop our systems. It is impossible do that without digitalization coupled with cloud and IoT solutions. Then there is also a very important new trend. Today you buy a car with a certain function. In the near future you will buy car with functions that can be updated. Because computers now control the architecture of electric vehicles you can provide additional revenue streams for the OEMs as well as the suppliers. There are also huge benefits for the customer because they enjoy the latest functionality even in a car that is 3, 4 or 5 years old. It is a win-win situation for both, and you can only do it with IoT, digitalization cloud-based updates, and over-the-air functions.
AI: How will the ZF ProAI supercomputer and the related sensor systems help to increase efficiency and save costs throughout the logistics chain?
Gollewski: ZF ProAI is currently the most powerful automotive-graded computer for artificial intelligence on the market. Automotive grading is important because you need to be able to fit it into a car or truck. We have several projects where we use the data from the vehicle, from the external sensing and from online maps in order to adapt gear shifting and to enhance efficiency and fuel consumption of the truck. If the vehicle is able to see, think and act it can be more intelligent and save fuel. If you know that you are going up the hill and you can detect it with your environmental sensors you have algorithms to process the data in real time you can adapt your driving strategy and save fuel.
AI: What’s next for ZF?
Gollewski: It is hard to predict the future, but we can adapt and prepare for it. ZF has invested a lot in capacity and in product ideas to be prepared for the future. I am convinced that we have a unique product portfolio able to address every future trend. We have a lot of answers for different mobility systems, such as autonomous driving and the electric powertrain. Safety is a primary concern for all forms of mobility, be they freight, passenger cars or transport as a service, and ZF is well prepared to provide safety solutions for all these services. We are also geared to adapt very quickly to any other future trend. You always have to monitor your environment and you have to adapt. But, with the current product portfolio and with what we have in the advanced engineering portfolio for the future I am convinced we are well prepared.