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ZF unveiling robo-taxi at CES 2019; ProAI RoboThink controller

At CES 2019, ZF will unveil a steering-wheel- and pedal-free robo-taxi to show how its technologies enable new forms of urban mobility. Users can hail the taxi using their smartphone or tablet; the robo-taxi will maneuver autonomously to pick them up. It can then chauffeur them to where they wish to go.

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Automation, electrification and networking are critical enablers as the transport of people and goods continually increase in urban centers. With our extensive systems competence, ZF is enabling and shaping next-generation mobility. Our flexible and modular system solutions are not only attractive for conventional car manufacturers, but also for new companies entering the mobility market.

—Torsten Gollewski, head of Advanced Engineering at ZF and general manager of Zukunft Ventures GmbH

With the robo-taxi, ZF is demonstrating that it can provide the necessary solutions for the development of robo-vehicles and related services. In line with the company’s “see. think. act.” philosophy, the ZF range of sensors (earlier post) helps enable the demo vehicle to precisely detect its surroundings.

ZF ProAI RoboThink—the fourth and latest model of ZF’s NVIDIA-based control unit—is designed to process the vast amount of sensor data, translate it into a coherent picture and derive the right commands for the vehicle. These commands are then implemented by connected ZF systems that enable vehicle motion control and enhanced safety—including chassis, drive, steering system, brakes or occupant safety systems.

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ZF ProAI RoboThink

The ZF ProAI RoboThink is a completely new design from ZF. This latest generation in the ZF ProAI product family comes with its own graphics processor, offers a total computing performance of more than 150 teraOPS (the equivalent of 150 trillion calculation operations per second) and can be modularly combined with up to four units, corresponding to a total performance of 600 teraOPS.

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ZF ProAI RoboThink board.

The ZF ProAI product family offers an open platform for the customized integration of software algorithms, covering conventional functions as well as AI algorithms. They support various operating systems common in the automotive field—e.g. AutoSAR, Adaptive AutoSAR or QNX—and will add further platforms as they are developed.

ZF also offers customers the option of equipping the ZF ProAI with processors from other manufacturers. A current example is ZF’s new partnership with Xilinx, a leader in adaptive and intelligent computing. ZF is integrating Xilinx’s Multi-Processor System-on-Chip (MPSoC) platform for data aggregation, pre-processing, and distribution to enable the scalability and flexibility required for various sensor and automated driving feature sets, while also providing low latency and high efficiency artificial intelligence computer acceleration. This approach is unique compared to other systems on the market which use a fixed combination of hardware and software architecture – a solution which can potentially limit functionality and add more cost.

The unique selling proposition of the AI-capable ZF ProAI RoboThink is its modular hardware concept and open software architecture. Our aim is to provide the widest possible range of functions in the field of autonomous driving.

—Torsten Gollewski

ZF says that robo-taxis and autonomous people or cargo-movers are vastly accelerating the development of central control units with much higher computing power because powerful domain computers used in Mobility-as-a-Service applications not only manage the complex calculation of the surroundings based on a fusion of camera, radar and LIDAR data, they also integrate user data via the Cloud, payment systems and above all optimal route planning and implementation.

Complex algorithms calculate these from the mobility and transport requirements of people or goods and can compare them in real time with the current traffic situation.

The computing power of central computers in robo-taxis and autonomous people or cargo-movers will be significantly higher than for automated-driving passenger cars. The demand from ride-hailing service providers for even more computing power has arisen much sooner than predicted. Today, the autonomous-driving market is being driven more by new mobility service providers than by established vehicle manufacturers.

—Torsten Gollewski

ZF has also been networking its intelligent mechanical systems with its cloud-based platform for mobility services. It will be possible to integrate functions across all kinds of providers—e.g., for ride-hailing, innovative delivery services and fleet management. The vehicle software can be updated via the cloud.

With increasing automation, new concepts for seat positions in fully automated delivery vehicles or robo-taxis are also in demand. The Trendsetting Cockpit from ZF and Faurecia installed in the CES demo vehicle demonstrates where development is heading. It can maneuver without a steering wheel and pedals and is equipped with three screens. Deliverers or passengers can freely choose where to sit. This provides greater flexibility, freedom of movement and new options for interior space utilization.

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