Robotics & Automation News

Market trends and business perspectives

zf car wireframe

Vehicle safety becoming ‘increasingly complex’, says ZF boss

Stefan Sommer, CEO of ZF and John Plant, CEO of TRW
Picture shows Dr Stefan Sommer, CEO of ZF (right), and John Plant, CEO of TRW Automotive. ZF bought TRW last year. 

Majority of vehicles will be driven autonomously in 20 years, he says

The boss of one of the world’s largest automotive parts manufacturers says today’s road vehicles are becoming more sophisticated and ensuring their safe operation more complex. 

Speaking at an industry event, Dr Stefan Sommer, CEO of ZF Friedrichshafen, also said the further development of safety systems would facilitate autonomous driving, and be an “enabler” for automotive “megatrends”.

Sommer said: “Demands to vehicle safety are becoming increasingly complex due to new vehicle architectures and flexible use of internal space. Meeting these demands is necessary for autonomous vehicles and e-mobility to gain general acceptance.” 

zf car wireframe

Sommer underlined this thesis in his keynote address at the CAR Symposium 2017 in the past few days.

With both megatrends, ZF is regarded as one of the most pioneering of automotive suppliers. Through the acquisition of TRW Automotive, it now boasts of having “the most comprehensive portfolio of active and passive safety technologies”.

Sommer said: “Autonomous driving and electromobility represent new challenges for vehicle safety. This is true not only for active safety as a prerequisite for autonomous driving but also for passive safety systems.”

He gave an example: The attraction of autonomous driving is not least that passengers may choose their seating position on a far more flexible basis than in conventional vehicles.

To nevertheless help ensure occupant safety, changes to the airbag systems will be required. The company is currently working on appropriate solutions.

At the same time, alternative installation spaces – such as air cushions in the roof instead of in the steering wheel or dashboard – are also being developed and made ready for the market.

Coexistence of autonomous and non-autonomous vehicles

Although self-driving vehicles are expected to significantly reduce accidents in the future, they nevertheless need to be designed to move in traffic that will continue to be dominated by non-autonomous vehicles, which represent potential participants in an accident.

The average age of passenger cars on German roads is currently 9.2 years and continues to rise. According to estimates of industry experts, the majority of new vehicles will be driven autonomously in 2037.

On the other hand, more than 2 million vehicles will be older than 20 years and therefore mostly still steered conventionally.

Safety as prerequisite for acceptance and penetration

The necessity of new safety concepts for autonomous and electrically driven vehicles does not just have technological aspects.

“No one would dream of calling for a ban on driving in snow, despite many serious accidents in January,” said Sommer in his keynote address.

“However, if a single accident occurs due to the introduction of a new technology – what happened with a self-driving car back in fall 2016 – the technology as such is questioned.”

Vision Zero conceivable only through network integration

ZF sees itself as obligated to fulfill its “Vision Zero” – a multinational project which envisions traffic which causes neither accidents nor emissions.

The networking of all road users will make it possible to come decisively closer to this objective, said Sommer.

Sommer outlined two development steps: “In the first step, advanced passive and active safety systems must become enablers of autonomous driving and electromobility.

“In the second step, networked traffic can prevent more and more accidents. Network integration and autonomous driving are necessary if the number of 1.2 million traffic deaths is to be reduced drastically in the coming decades.”