As the autonomous vehicle industry progresses, we’re starting to see fewer traditional cars and more cars that are designed around not having a driver. Instead of a car where everybody faces the same way and it’s designed to look cool, the goals have changed. Ease of access and spaciousness, along with safety and cost-effectiveness, are the new goals. Plus, with urban mobility being the main goal, even aerodynamics are falling by the wayside a bit (because low-speed vehicles don’t need to cut through the air).
At the 2023 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada, ZF proudly presents its next-generation shuttle for autonomous driving in congested cities and busy roads. This successor to its current model — developed mainly for use in dedicated lanes — benefits from an alliance with Beep, Inc., the leading US-based mobility services provider.
ZF and Beep have partnered to launch the effort, which will provide thousands of shuttles over the upcoming years. By combining ZF’s Autonomous Transportation System with Beep’s mobility services and service management platform, customers can access an unparalleled single-source autonomous mobility solution.
“In order to reduce traffic-related emissions in metropolitan areas, a reduction in motorized individual transport and a simultaneous expansion of more sustainable, efficient, comfortable, and affordable mobility options are required,” says Torsten Gollewski, Executive Vice President of Autonomous Mobility Systems at ZF.
ZF says it is spearheading a mobility revolution with its Autonomous Transport Systems, helping to tackle the looming driver shortage for local public transportation. As evidence of the company’s commitment to “Next Generation Mobility NOW,” ZF has just unveiled an advanced Level 4 Shuttle that joins its existing autonomous shuttle model. In the upcoming months, ZF will be offering two distinct types of shuttles: one geared towards segregated lanes and another designed primarily for urban areas and mixed traffic scenarios.
Hardware & Software
The shuttle is outfitted with sophisticated sensor technology, including lidar, radar, camera, and audio systems that provide exact detection of its environment. The ZF ProConnect connectivity platform allows the shuttle to communicate with infrastructure and cloud platforms, as well as the all-important ZF ProAI supercomputer where data comes together for analysis.
ZF’s Automated Driving (AD) software, the Virtual Driver, is able to analyze an immense amount of data and craft secure driving strategies with artificial intelligence. These tactics are then relayed as input for the onboard actuators, ultimately replacing human drivers and rendering steering wheels and brake pedals unnecessary. To ensure maximum dependability, the system was developed with redundant stability. As a result, ProConnect and ProAI units collaborate to run ZF Virtual Driver in an efficient manner. Each component of ZF is automotive grade certified, thus complying with safety regulations set forth by the automotive industry along with relevant cybersecurity standards.
Modular, Flexible Design
Boasting options of 50 and 100 kWh battery capacities, the revolutionary shuttle can cover up to 80 miles in pure electric mode — with a speed limit that starts at 25 mph and increases to 50 mph. With space for 22 passengers, up to 15 seated comfortably, it also meets all American Disabilities Act requirements and includes an automatic ramp as well as wheelchair restraints.
Customizable in layout and trim level, the interior of this shuttle makes it a breeze to approach any stop. Its front- and rear-wheel steer with kneeling functions drastically minimize its distance from sidewalk curbs for precise docking that offers barrier-free boarding and disembarking.
Autonomous, zero-emission ZF Shuttles boast the capability to run on set schedules around the clock without fail. Public transport operators can now offer riders a quality of service regardless of whether demand is high or low; additionally, they can expand routes even with an extreme deficit in driver availability.
What Beep Brings To The Table
ZF and Beep have formed an alliance to introduce the brand new shuttle service in America. By joining forces, ZF and US mobility provider Beep are paving the way for a more convenient mode of transportation.
Beep is revolutionizing the transportation industry from their headquarters in Lake Nona, Florida. With a specialization in planning and deploying autonomous shuttles for both public and private sectors alike, Beep connects people to places quickly and safely with first-mile/last-mile mobility networks throughout the United States. For over three years they’ve been rigorously testing these shuttles on roads across America, which has resulted in more than 100,000 hours of driving. They are also actively running what is considered by many to be the longest operating US-based autonomous mobility network right here at home — Lake Nona’s very own!
“We are excited to partner with ZF to bring their next shuttle generation to market in the United States,” said Joe Moye, Chief Executive Officer for Beep. “ZF’s full suite of shuttle services, its U.S. partner network and its automotive-grade vehicle complement our turnkey mobility networks and autonomous services technology platform. This shuttle will allow us to continue to pursue our vision of extending mobility equity and reducing carbon emissions, expanding our use cases while meeting industrial requirements for vehicle service life, performance and safety.”
What ZF Will Contribute
As a technological innovator, ZF perceives itself not only as a shuttle vendor but also as a dedicated partner for the entire lifespan of its shuttles. In order to ensure continual operation and maximum uptime of their vehicles, this partnership consists of comprehensive service maintenance.
“For service, customers can rely on ZF’s global network with 20,000 workshop partners worldwide. In North America alone, we have 3,000 workshop partners, so support of our customers is always a priority,” emphasizes Marco Neubold, Vice President of Industrial Aftermarket and Autonomous Mobility at ZF.
Furthermore, ZF’s Mobility Solutions arm provides a cohesive environment for autonomous transportation systems. Their extensive services span from individual consulting and route planning to managing the shuttle, infrastructure requirements like charging stations, as well as fleet management — all of which can be incorporated with existing framework seamlessly to promote operational fluency.
By introducing autonomous shuttle systems, ZF says it has become a key player in shaping the future of public transportation. “This is true to our strategy of bringing autonomous driving at Level 4 into operational use first with commercial vehicles and shuttles. Autonomous transport systems are no longer a vision. We are starting with the implementation,” said Gollewski.
Featured image and all other images provided by ZF.
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