See. Think. Act
ZF's highly automated forklift adds connectivity to get the job done
If you think connected and autonomous, you probably think Tesla or Audi and sports sedans speeding down the freeway. You probably don't think about off-highway vehicles such as a forklift truck. Well, more fool you because that's where a lot of the connected and autonomous technologies will mature first.
Tier One supplier, ZF has been linking intelligent mechanical systems with digital solutions in its R&D projects for a number of years allowing the firm to offer attractive industrial technology products.
And this year ZF is going to prove it's know-how with its 'ZF Innovation Forklift,' a highly automated, electrified and fully networked forklift truck. A vehicle it hopes will show the benefit of these combined systems.
Mixing ZF's expertise in the passenger car and commercial vehicle sectors has resulted in the development of the forklift, a vehicle it says can "see, think and act."
The forklift is a fully networked electric forklift truck with highly automated driving functions equipped with camera and radar systems that enable it to see its surrounding environment. The data that these systems generate are analysed by the ZF ProAI central computer, which is based on an artificial intelligence software that has already been proven in other prototype vehicles modelled on passenger cars and tractors.
Intelligent actuating elements – such as the ZF electric rear axle steering for forklift trucks – and the electric single-wheel drive carry out the control unit's given commands.
ZF's CEO Wolf-Henning Scheider said: “The highly automated ZF Innovation Forklift is the result of bundled know-how to create a solution that essentially embraces the main requirements of the industry: reducing costs and making materials handling processes far more efficient.”
The ZF Innovation Forklift bundles digitalisation, automation, electrification and networking. It paves the way toward autonomous materials handling vehicles of the future. This highly automated forklift truck completes work orders by independently going to the storage location, picking up the goods and delivering them to the customer. Equipped with an extremely powerful electric drive and featuring a lifting capacity of up to 3.5 tons, the ZF Innovation Truck is coming well within range of the diesel-operated forklift trucks broadly used outdoors; and it generates zero emissions.
ZF supplies the purely electric drive as a system solution and has streamlined the forklift truck’s energy management so that it can hold a battery charge for at least one shift. This means that operators do not have to have as many replacement batteries on hand and can therefore reduce costs considerably. Intelligent object and pedestrian detection is a major safety bonus when the vehicle is in operation. The ZF Innovation Forklift sensors record people or stationary objects such as pallet cages or simply pallets. The data interpreted in the ZF ProAI central control unit results in a corresponding command that tells the vehicle to either stop or drive around the obstacle.
And as always, to work safely and efficiently, the forklift needs to be smart. Deep learning algorithms help to anticipate the great variety of potential scenarios in high speed and then trigger adequate reactions. In other words, artificial intelligence can help to prevent work accidents and injury to people or material damage.
The vehicle can also prioritise orders itself and thus make decisions regarding the optimal sequence and route. An essential factor in this is how the ZF Innovation Forklift is networked. It can operate in a digitalised production network and there communicate both with the materials management system, infrastructure and other vehicles. The cloud-based, dynamic fleet management allows the data from the individual forklift trucks to be efficiently managed and analysed. The system takes into account, for example, the current battery charge status during all driving operations and schedules the recharge time at which the forklift truck should independently head toward the charging station.
So while the headlines will always be grabbed by Elon Musk and his latest Tesla or the Goliath that is Audi et al when it comes to connected, autonomous vehicles, just remember they aren't the only firms taking the technology forward.