Back to Top


Numerous Assistants – one Logic Unit

A pictogram here, an LED there – setting up and keeping an eye on all of the driver assistance systems is often difficult. But a new concept for interacting with the vehicle could change all that.

Text: Stefan Schrahe , 07. December, 2017

Stefan Schrahe has been writing about everything four-wheeled for three decades now. In his leisure time, he enjoys traveling by bike - though he also prefers motorized ones.

Anyone who regularly drives a rental car knows the problem – the numerous menus you’re forced to fumble through to activate and set up the driver assistance systems in modern vehicles are often completely unintuitive. Comfort and safety systems work disconnected from one another and controls and displays are found in different places – from the warning signal in the exterior rear-view mirror and the switch on the turn signal lever to the pictogram in the cockpit and the LED on the center console. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Like it was designed for pilots: everything at a glance

With the support of fka, a vehicle research company based in Aachen, Germany, ZF has developed the “Concept 2020” – a vehicle cockpit designed to be as simple as possible to operate. To achieve this, Professor Lutz Eckstein and his team works with images. The driver sees a bird’s-eye view of the vehicle on a central monitor – the Head-Up Display Instrument Cluster (HUDIC). This screen informs the driver when one of the vehicle’s assistance systems is either activated or takes action. “Airplane pilots have been familiar with virtual representations, like the artificial horizon, for almost 100 years, and still use the principle to this day,” says Uwe Class, “Concept 2020” project manager at ZF. “Our goal is give future drivers the same tools that help pilots take in and process an incredibly large amount of information.”

50% of drivers view a steering wheel suddenly shaking as a disruption.

Zooming in on the flow of traffic

Other road users, buildings, and street signs are intuitively displayed and arranged on the screen similar to how the driver sees them in real life. In addition to this, the display also shows information relevant to the drive, like the current speed limit or how much longer until the light changes.

The display also adheres to the principle of focusing in on key information. Whenever necessary, the screen zooms in or out from the bird’s-eye view of the vehicle driving on the road – for example when selecting a route in the GPS system or when parking, in order to better judge the distance to an obstacle. All of the information important to the driver is displayed on a single screen.

The vehicle – together with its “virtual force field” – is shown within its surrounding.

A virtual force field surrounds the car

What makes this concept stand out is that the screen also displays the driver assistance system’s safety-related features. In its normal state, the display shows a kind of “virtual force field” around the car – represented by oval-shaped, gray lines. If, for example, the driver begins to change lanes and doesn’t see that there is another vehicle in their blind spot, the lines begin to distort and change color on the screen in the corresponding location. At the same time, the assistance system takes action, applying the brake to individual wheels in order to prevent the lane change, while the steering wheel – in contrast to conventional solutions – does not shake. According to Professor Eckstein: “This is how we ensure that the driver can continue steering in the desired direction without being disturbed by steering wheel movement. About 50% of drivers view a steering wheel suddenly shaking as a disturbance, and in some cases then compensate for the movement by overriding the preventative action taken by the assistance system.”

“Our goal is give future drivers the same tools that help airline pilots take in and process incredibly large amounts of information.”

Uwe Class, “Concept 2020” project manager at ZF

Every system follows a single principle

The force field encompasses all of the vehicle’s assistance systems, and the driver can adjust its sensitivity using controls on the steering wheel. “In general, it operates based on the principle of ‘early action – slight correction, late action – clearly noticeable correction’. This is similar to adjustable traction control assistants,” says Uwe Class, explaining further: “This configuration means that the driver only has to change one setting to make all of the assistance systems follow one overarching principle.” This is an approach that is only possible thanks to ZF offering a wide range of products as a systems supplier.

This means different applications, such as a blind spot assistant, adaptive cruise control, and a lane departure assistant, can all be viewed and operated from one central location. “Concept 2020” is designed for semi-autonomous driving at level 2, yet is also important for level 3 and 4 . The development team likes to point out the role that icons like the trash icon played in the breakthrough of Apple’s first Macintosh computer. At any rate, Project Manager Uwe Class is convinced that virtual images belong in the vehicle cockpits of the future.

The lines distort when an object intrudes into the virtual force field.

In a nutshell: Assistance systems make life easier for the driver and help prevent accidents. Yet activating, setting up, and monitoring these many different systems is often difficult. “Concept 2020” brings together the settings and visualization of these assistance systems in one central display. ZF developed the “Concept 2020” with support from the fka vehicle research company based in Aachen, Germany. In this concept, a virtual force field surrounds the car and can autonomously take action to prevent accidents, if necessary.

Related Posts