ZF Advanced Urban Vehicle: City Driving Simplified
No, it won't go to work for you, but the new ZF Advanced Urban Vehicle Concept unveiled just outside Berlin will make many of your jobs around town much easier. Designed as a showcase for technology developed by the recently combined ZF and TRW Automotive, the concept car will do almost everything you'd like except toast bread. For instance, if you're too busy to park, it will park itself for you. Just get out, push the icon on your smartwatch, and it will find a spot and maneuver itself into remarkably tight parking places while you dash off for your specialty coffee.
Do you drive the same route a lot? If so and you are tired of the tedium of applying brake and accelerator at the appropriate moments, the ZF Advanced Urban Vehicle (which we'll call ZF-AUV for short) will take the burden off your brain and right foot. Having captured information on your previous passes over the same roads, and perhaps info from other drivers following the route, the system will calculate the optimum speed for each twist and turn on the basis of the captured data and vehicle data. Drawing on split-second calculations fueled by this data -- the kind your brain makes whenever you are driving -- the "assistance function" then throttles back power before entering each curve to the point where it can be negotiated without any mechanical braking. This not only saves wear-and-tear on the battery and braking system, it also can provide greater safety by preventing the car from trying to go through a corner at a faster speed than physics allows.
While the auto-parking function is fun to watch, the ZF PreVision Cloud Assist driver assistance function is a bit disconcerting, because it takes over the acceleration and deceleration control while you steer. Since we are accustomed to doing all of this in a coordinated fashion, being in control of only a piece of it takes some getting used to. And since my laps of the closed course in a very similar ZF concept vehicle utilized the acceleration and braking experiences of others to determine speed, it became quite clear that others have significantly different driving styles than mine. Further, deceleration without braking has a wholly different feel than deceleration via braking. It posed an issue regarding autonomous driving that is not generally addressed: what if you don't like the way your car is driving you?
While the answer to that question is both literally and figuratively down the road, there is no doubt that automated driving will make difficult driving tasks much less demanding. One key feature of the ZF-AUV is its incredibly tight turning circle made possible by its innovative front axle. Unburdened by the need to drive the car, the front axle offers steering angles up to 75 degrees. Thanks to this amazing wheel deflection, the turning circle diameter of the Advanced Urban Vehicle is reduced to right around 23 feet, enabling a U-turn with no difficulty on a typical two-lane road. That's impressive, but the biggest advantage comes in the ability to maneuver into what seem to be impossibly small parking places.
Making magic happen
An enabler of all this is the ZF-AUV's electric twist-beam (eTB) rear axle that incorporates electric drive motors of 40 kilowatts (54 horsepower) powering each of the rear wheels. While a twist-beam is not regarded as a sophisticated suspension design, it is an excellent solution in the ZF-AUV, since it is not only light and simple but it also enables relatively easy torque-vectoring. With a separate motor powering each rear wheel, the drive force is regulated individually, enabling the ZF-AUV to move from a stop easily even with 75-degrees of wheel deflection, and that, in turn, makes parking a much easier task - especially when the car is parking for you.
While the parking maneuvers seem simple as you view them being executed, making everything happen in a coordinated fashion is far from simple. Information is gathered by 12 ultrasound sensors and two infrared sensors scattered at various points on the vehicle's exterior, and these are the sensors that enable the car to find suitable parking spaces. Having sensors, however, isn't enough. The info from the sensors is conveyed to the vehicle's control electronics that process it and use it to control all the systems involved in the parking function. Essentially they signal the car to go, turn and stop via the electric drive and the electric power steering.
While the ZF-AUV is designed as urban transport, its twin electric motors powered by a traction battery, housed in three modules on the front and rear axle, is capable of a top speed of about 93 miles per hour. But despite this speed potential, the Advanced Urban Vehicle is about as non-threatening as a car can get, presenting a demeanor reminiscent of a family pet. We bet when cars like this reach the market, their owners will name them.