ZF Produces a Driverless Truck
AACHEN, Germany — ZF has produced a prototype system that can maneuver a long combination vehicle up to a loading dock precisely with no driver in the cab at all. Perhaps with no driver anywhere to be seen, because anyone who can slide fingers across a tablet screen can manage this complex task.
There really is an app for that.
You will have heard by now about the other truck that drives itself. Introduced with much fanfare two weeks ago, the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 isn't actually driverless, as some reports have implied, rather the driver can give almost complete control to the truck on the highway. This is what's called autonomous driving.
Then ZF and ZF Lenksysteme – a joint venture of ZF and Bosch – showed the press a truly driverless truck the following week, also in Germany. This one's entirely different, if also impressive, because in that case we're talking about an 82-ft-long (25.25 meters) prototype combination rig – the ZF Innovation Truck, a tractor with semi-trailer and full trailer behind, not yet Euro-legal – being backed up to a loading dock with no driver in the picture. And making complicated turns in the process if needed. Fingers on a tablet screen 200 ft away can do the job, albeit at very low yard speeds, but there's no limit to its maneuvering ability.
It's about "connecting intelligently", says ZF. This new function combines the company's TraXon Hybrid automated transmission with steering technology from ZF Lenksysteme and telematics from ZF's Openmatics division.
It's tablet-based remote control with zero local emissions because of the electric motor in the modular TraXon gearbox.
These so-called EuroCombis (LHVs) – tractor-trailers designed for the future – are significantly more difficult to maneuver even for experienced drivers. The driver must maintain a constant overview of the entire vehicle/trailer combination from the driver's seat and simultaneously be able to precisely control the movement of the rear trailer solely by steering the front wheels. Perfectly co-ordinating the two articulation angles of the semitrailer and trailer would be a significant challenge.
The maneuvering assistant in the Innovation Truck completely relieves the driver of this steering work and much more," says Olrik Weinmann, project manager in Advanced Engineering and Testing at ZF. "They can get out and move the tractor-trailer to the exact position required with only small finger movements and using a special tablet app."
The new TraXon transmission Hybrid variant has an electric motor integrated into the bell housing that delivers 160 hp and 737 lb ft of torque. A dry clutch is installed in the hybrid module as well, which enables purely electric maneuvering. The system's high-voltage battery has sufficient capacity to complete multiple maneuvers one after the other with no emissions.
The advanced ZF-Servotwin superimposed steering system comes standard with an electric motor in addition to the combustion-engine-driven hydraulic pump that provides the main power. The electric motor provides the required steering force with the ignition shut off, which demanded a modified hydraulic pump – a purely electro/hydraulic system. Instead of the diesel engine, two ZF-Servotwin powerpacks drive the modified pump.
The Openmatics application consists of an onboard or connectivity unit, sensor technology for data recording, and special software. For the wireless detection of both articulation angles of the two trailers, 'Bluetooth Low-Energy' (BLE) tags were used. These are special wireless chips with low-energy requirements and a range of approximately 82 ft. In the ZF Innovation Truck, they're located on the back of the cab and on each corner of the semitrailer and trailer. As soon as the distance to the BLE tags or to the tablet changes, the field strength also changes correspondingly. This information is processed by the onboard unit and operator tablet.
ZF will show the system at September's IAA Commercial Vehicle Show in Hannover, Germany. No production plans exist as of yet.