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ZF is Designing a Mobile Living Room

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Tags: AutonomousDriving

Safety plays a decisive role on the road toward automated driving. ZF is currently working hard to design the auto interior of the future. A guest contribution by Thomas Flehmer.
Thomas Flehmer, January 03, 2019
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Thomas Flehmer is the general manager and editor at FM Autoportal GmbH. This article was first published on the company website, www.autogazette.de.
Radical change in the automotive industry does not stop at the design of the automobile's interior. “Viewed from a distance, current vehicle interiors have a very standard design. Due to the new assistance functions, automobiles are undergoing radical change when it comes to vehicle interior design for the first time in a long while,” says Stefan Knöß, project manager of Integrated Safety at ZF, in describing the current situation to the Autogazette. Development engineers at ZF, a leading automotive supplier based on Lake Constance, have been inundated with new development projects due particularly to the goal of advancing the concept of automated driving.

Up until now, says Knöß, cockpit design requirements have focused on the role of the driver. “Today, primarily due to the new assistance systems, we are facing a continuous increase in vehicle complexity that is creating intense challenges when it comes to developing future vehicle interiors,” describes Knöß. Together with component supplier Faurecia, specialists have created initial results for the interior of the future, under the name “Concept 2020."
Various systems monitor the environment of the vehicle.

Knöß is talking about the first major changes to the auto interior in decades, and not only on the part of the development engineers. “Automated functions will enable the responsibility for driving to be partially handed over to the vehicle. In autonomous driving, therefore, the driver essentially becomes the passenger.”
Those now dreaming about a mobile office or movie theater are not far off the mark, but first there are other tasks on the to-do list for developers. “You can’t have automated driving without factoring in safety. This includes driving safety functions, safe operation and adapting passive safety systems such as seatbelts and airbags,” adds Georges Halsdorf, deputy manager of the Integrated Safety department at ZF.

Interaction between active and passive systems

Interaction between active and passive systems

For Halsdorf, it’s all about interconnecting modern assistance systems, on the one hand, and increasingly merging Lane Keeping Assist and other features with passive safety systems like seatbelts and airbags, on the other. Because, after all, these tried-and-trusted life-saving systems – already in use for many decades – must be adapted to changes in the vehicle interior: “So that the driver’s seat can be shifted or rotated, to name one example,” says Halsdorf. He assumes that the seatbelt will therefore become an integral part of the seat in the future.
But even interconnecting the systems with the driver requires streamlining. At Level 4 of the five levels of automated driving, in which the vehicle still requires a steering wheel and gas pedal, the vehicle interior must indicate to the driver whether the responsibility for operating the vehicle lies with the driver or the vehicle,” adds Knöß. A development engineer by trade, he goes on to say that without safety solutions, there can be no automated driving: “Safety must be a major factor to consider in developing automobile drive functions. Because safety features cannot be developed separately and then retrofitted later on.”
Due to the new assistance functions, automobiles are undergoing radical change when it comes to vehicle interior design for the first time in a long while”
— Stefan Knöß, Project Manager Integrated Safety

Humans as the fallback solution

Humans as the fallback solution

Halsdorf designates humans as the fallback solution for Level 4, in which the vehicle is already primarily operated and controlled by automated drive functions. “In fully automated driving, the vehicle itself must guarantee complete vehicle functionality. This will occur gradually.” At this point, if not before, another factor comes into play. “We need to foster the idea among drivers that they will now become the passenger. This is not a technological process, rather a psychological one,” says Knöß. Once they’ve made the transition, drivers will be able to use their time as flexibly as their passengers. For Knöß, this is not an unusual situation as all drivers have also often been passengers and had enough experience to know that a car can get from A to B without them having to do anything.

Cockpit design between the living room and the law

Cockpit design between the living room and the law

Yet this scenario will probably not happen for some time yet. Currently, technology has already reached the Level 3 stage and Knöß expects that Level 4 will initially only be applied in certain zones. But the transition between the separate levels is happening continuously. Neither specialist can say when we will reach this point. Aside from people’s desires, which include, according to Knöß, “visions of a mobile living room,” developers must deal with additional requirements: "Lawmakers will draw up the necessary safety legislation. It is ZF’s job to reconcile these perspectives.”
ZF has been working on various cockpit concepts for years.