Robotics & Automation News

Market trends and business perspectives

ZF developing autonomous ‘last-mile’ delivery

The logistics industry is overtaking the passenger car sector when it comes to the automation of driving functions. ZF is supporting this trend with innovative concepts and major investments.

For example, there are commercial vehicles that are intelligently connected thanks to production-ready ZF technology and equipped with autonomous driving functions capable of independently performing all logistics tasks or assisting package delivery drivers.

Autonomous delivery trucks will make package deliveries along the “last mile” more efficient – which will in the future help to deal with rising delivery volumes while reducing traffic in city centres.

ZF intends to invest more than € 12 billion in E-mobility and autonomous driving over the next five years.
With the headline “Smart Logistics” at IAA 2018, the company has bundled its technologies and – through automation, networking and electrification – has created attractive solutions for the complete logistics chain.

Autonomous driving will prevail more quickly in the commercial vehicle sector due to reduced vehicle operating costs while also helping to improve safety and efficiency.

Wolf-Henning Scheider, CEO of ZF Friedrichshafen AG, said: “We are revolutionising the ‘last mile’ so that packages can be delivered more cleanly, safely and on time. For this reason, we are working together with partners and customers to further develop our concept ready for series production within the next two years.

“In order to quickly offer the market our systems expertise in the form of innovative and practical solutions, we will be investing more than €12 billion in e-mobility and autonomous driving alone over the next five years.”

The “last mile” in parcel logistics is an attractive use case. ZF’s Innovation Van demonstrated how intelligent networking, autonomous driving and an all-electric drive support parcel delivery services in meeting the requirements of the future – especially the rising delivery volumes and the demand for individual delivery.

At the same time, such vehicles will also help to reduce emissions and traffic in city centres. This approach has attracted interest within the industry.

Scheider added: “We are already in concrete negotiations with several customers.” ZF’s Innovation Van is based on its high-speed super computer ZF ProAI, as well as its sensor set consisting of camera, radar and lidar.

The all-electric delivery truck is equipped with level 4 autonomous driving functions and is designed to independently manoeuvre through city centres, stay in its lane even if without road markings, recognise both traffic lights and road signs and react to sudden hazardous situations.

In addition, the Innovation Van can detect and drive around obstacles such as double-parked vehicles. The FollowMe function – which uses a tablet-based remote control –is particularly helpful for drivers. If two addresses are close enough that it makes more sense for the delivery driver to stay on foot, the Innovation Van will follow the driver as if on a virtual leash.

In addition, if there is no parking available at a certain address, the driver can send the vehicle ahead to the next stop where it will look for a parking space on its own. This will also help to avoid traffic jams in future caused by delivery trucks which are often double parked.