Press Release


New Communication between Human and Vehicle: ZF Concept Cockpit

  • ZF will present its Concept Cockpit at HANNOVER MESSE 2016 trade fair (hall 17, booth B42) from April 25-29
  • Different options for the communication between driver and vehicle to support automated driving
  • Steering wheel equipped with touch sensors and a touch display with haptic feedback allow for use without looking
  • Active mechatronics turn seat belts into a communications tool

The vision of autonomous driving, fueled by ZF with innovations in automation and connectivity, is not just limited to cars; it also aims at industrial vehicle types shown by GPS-controlled field work in the agricultural sector, for example. One key to it is reliable and clear communication between driver and vehicle. Using the slogan “Shaping the next decade of automated driving,” ZF will unveil four innovative approaches to the human-machine interface (HMI) as part of its Concept Cockpit.

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New Communication between Human and Vehicle: ZF Concept Cockpit

“The trend towards autonomous driving will change the use of vehicles more significantly than any other previous developments,” emphasizes Eberhard Wilks, Head of Development in ZF’s Industrial Technology Division.

To increase vehicles’ safety and efficiency, it is decisive for them to be able to “see, think and act independently”. The Group-wide technology transfer from passenger cars via commercial vehicles into industrial technology has started long ago and is progressing inexorably.

The cost-efficient application of these synergies is used in all areas of mobility: in trucks as well as in off-road, agricultural and construction machinery such as forklift trucks, tractors, combine harvesters, excavators or cranes. “The development towards autonomous driving is taking place in stages. With our ZF Concept Cockpit, we are focusing on four innovative HMI approaches. Clear and reliable communication between operator and vehicle is essential in every conceivable situation,” states Wilks.

ZF Concept Cockpit functions:
Sensitive steering wheel

The multifunctional steering wheel from ZF TRW simplifies switching between driver and autopilot using two special functions. The first is integrated hands on/off detection at any time so the car knows if and when the driver actually has a firm grip on the wheel. The second is an LED display that shows a kind of visual countdown to let the driver know precisely when he or she is back in complete control of the vehicle. This process can be shortened at any time by pressing the additional “Push-to-drive” button on the ZF steering wheel. This allows the driver to take back control of the vehicle immediately.

Noticeable difference

With the patented Swipetronic, ZF can offer an equally smart and high-quality digital shift-by-wire alternative for automatic transmissions. One central feature is a new kind of touch display that is based on the principle of electrostatic charge. This enables flat, virtual buttons or switches to be felt just like the real thing. Unlike most previous screens, drivers no longer have to take their eyes and attention off the road in order to select the desired function.

And using the software alone, the shift mode for transmission control and the corresponding haptic feedback can be adapted to meet almost any specific customer needs – always under the premise of maximum operating safety.

In the ZF Concept Cockpit, not only the gearshift system, but almost all traditional operating devices have been replaced by a touchscreen operating concept based on this new display technology. Consequently this opens up the option of individual operating functions appearing on any preferred area of the HMI unit. They are actuated by virtual buttons of the most diverse texture, but feel real to the fingertip.

Recording the driver’s attention

Driver monitoring becomes significant particularly when vehicles are operating in highly-automated mode. An important tool for this is the advanced, camera-based facial recognition feature. During autopilot mode, for example, it could determine reliably and in real-time whether the human driver is alert enough or at all capable of taking back control of the vehicle. Ultimately, it checks whether the driver has his face turned to or away from the current road situation. Additionally, the facial recognition feature can, with the aid of smart algorithms, be used to identify the emotional state of the driver and to support him accordingly.

Assisting belts

ZF shows how passive safety systems have been transformed into active helpers and communications tools with its new seat belt system consisting of a buckle lifter (Active Buckle Lifter – ABL) and seat belt tightener (Active Control Retractor –ACR). The combined belt system ensures first of all that the belt is always tight enough to provide the best possible safety. Secondly, when networked with other electronic assistance systems, such as the Automatic Emergency Brake (AEB), it pulls the belt even tighter if a collision appears unavoidable. A supporting feature for automated driving, which is derived from these systems, is shown in the ZF Concept Cockpit: By generating high-frequency, vehement pulsations, the seatbelt also clearly informs the driver, if necessary, that action on his part is required.