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“ZF Innovation Forklift” – an Electric Forklift Able to See, Think and Act

  • ZF develops intelligent mechanical systems for electric forklifts
  • Focus on safety: surround view and object recognition
  • Driveline systems form basis for autonomous driving

In times of Internet shopping and just-in-time production, logistics is shaping up to be one of the greatest challenges: goods have to be transported quickly, efficiently and without damage while the risks for employees are minimised. Vehicles of the future must be able to transport goods in a safe and energy-efficient manner, thus supporting the driver as much as possible with his work. With the Innovation Forklift, which was introduced at the ‘Hannover Messe’ trade fair for the first time, ZF offers solutions which meet precisely these challenges.

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“ZF Innovation Forklift” – an Electric Forklift Able to See, Think and Act

What is so new about this forklift? Existing electric driveline components are extended by environmental sensors such as radar and camera systems. This technology supports drivers through rear-view monitoring of the vehicle, warning them of obstructions or pedestrians in the danger zone and providing interior local navigation. Automated operations are enabled by driveline elements, such as the electromechanical power steering ZF eSTEER EPS 3, which replaces the hydrostatic steering used to date and reduces energy demand by more than 10 percent, as well as the twin-engine series eTRAC GP 25 (fig 3).

ZF Automated operations

The first product to come out of a partnership between ZF and AI computing specialist Nvidia is the ZF ProAI (fig 10). ZF ProAI allows vehicles to 'understand' their environment by processing and interpreting sensor data through deep learning technology. The two companies are also developing solutions for highly and completely automated driving and working, including features for passenger and commercial vehicles and applications in the field of industrial technology. ZF and its partners have used cameras, lasers and radar sensors to develop sub-systems for highly automated functions in off-highway applications.

Automated driving

Safety, the relief of drivers and process automation are becoming increasingly important in the logistics industry. That's why ZF has developed an Innovation Forklift that allows for a high degree of automation (fig 9). Currently, the technology is undergoing an extensive program of tests with the aim of making it production-ready.

"The test vehicle demonstrates how material handling too can benefit from key trends such as networks and artificial intelligence," says Dr Mark Mohr, manager of the Automated Operations project team at ZF, about the ground-breaking innovation, which ZF has equipped with a range of intelligent systems. Vehicles are fitted with an array of cameras and radar sensors to create a surround-view system capable of person and object recognition. Its signals are processed by ZF ProAI, a high-performance electronic system capable of deep learning. "Our steering and gearbox systems developed in-house enable automated process flows in warehouse logistics," explains Dr Mark Mohr.

Safety thanks to surround view and object recognition

Automated driving requires an exceptional level of safety, which is guaranteed by the Innovation Forklift. "The vehicle is capable of surround view, pedestrian and object recognition, thanks to built-in ZF cameras. Wherever possible, it allows the vehicle to come to an immediate halt should pedestrians suddenly appear or to bypass static objects", states Dr Mohr.

Basis for automated operations: ZF Driveline technology

The automated driving functions mentioned above are enabled by the electric driveline components, which ZF has offered for years. ZF has further improved its twin-engine series eTRAC GP 25 to that end. Today, such motors are setting efficiency benchmarks for energy use and noise pollution, which has been confirmed in tests carried out by independent trade publications. Anyone who uses a forklift will appreciate its long maintenance cycles.The electromechanical power steering system eSTEER EPS3 (fig 4) replaces the hydrostatic steering used currently in three-wheel front-drive counterbalance forklifts up to 2 tons. The main benefits include:

  • Driving cycle offers an energy saving of more than 10%
  • Reduced energy consumption / longer battery life through power on demand
  • Easier installation during forklift assembly
  • An ideal complement to the GP 25
  • Front drive ensures optimum mobility and energy efficiency
  • Reduced noise through perfect gearing


Lukas Hildebrand

Automated Operations Off-Highway project team

+49 7541 7788-39

Alexander Eisner

Product Communication/Technical Press

+49 851 494-2175