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Improved vision for improved safety

Tags: autogazette.de
Cameras play an important role on the way to accident-free driving. With their new camera systems, supplier ZF is gearing up for autonomous driving.
Thomas Flehmer , 27. April, 2018
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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.
Time is pressing – but no rush. According to supplier ZF's calculations, driverless cars should be on the market in the next four to six years. "We will be opening new customer groups, leading up to an entirely new business model," says Christophe Minster. On the route to autonomous driving, the portfolio director for driving safety systems at ZF has staked out stages until 2025. Test and field trials will be carried out until 2021, whilst between 2019 and 2025 "robo-taxis" will be driving in certain zones in "large cities such as London, Paris or Berlin," as Minster further explains.

"Robo-taxis" to hit the road soon

"Robo-taxis" to hit the road soon

Minster couldn't yet say how fast these "robo-taxis" will be, but thinks 60 km/h should not be a problem. "And with an increase in destinations we will see an increase in speed." The main aim, however, is traffic without accidents or emissions.
To ensure accident-free rides, radar, LIDAR or camera systems play an important role. They scan the nearby and more distant surroundings and send information on the condition of the road to the control units. "We need all three systems in autonomous driving in order to recognize persons or objects, regardless of whether they are immobile or in motion," says Minster.
© ZF
The camera consists of 420 individual components

TriCam with different ranges

TriCam with different ranges

To lead camera technology into the new age, ZF is developing the latest generation of the company-own S-Cam as well as a TriCam, three independent cameras in one housing, each of which acts independently with different ranges up to a distance of 300 meters and then bundles the information.
“Cameras for cars are not like typical cameras," says Robin Finley. "They must meet high levels of functional safety and be able to operate in all conditions." Finley is head of the English ZF plant in Peterlee near Sunderland, one of three ZF plants worldwide to specialize in the production of these cameras.
In the northeast of England, 904 employees produce around 33,000 units of the current camera generation S-Cam 3, consisting of 420 individual parts and able to warn drivers of collisions as well as maintain the distance to the vehicle ahead whilst keeping the vehicle in the middle of the lane.
"Cameras for cars are not like typical cameras"
— Robin Finley, head of the ZF plant in Peterlee

ZF invests EUR 34 million in the Peterlee plant

ZF invests EUR 34 million in the Peterlee plant

But just like in conventional vehicle manufacturing, further developments are part of the daily business. The S-Cam 4.6 is planned for 2018, one year later the S-Cam 4.7 is scheduled to follow. And in 2020 the fifth generation of the system is scheduled to see the light, as Minster explains.
To ensure progress, ZF has not only invested around EUR 34 million in the existing plant that was opened by TRW in 1988. The American supplier was taken over by ZF in 2015, the employees' know-how remained. But ZF looked to further help from outside and has formed partnerships with startups and companies such as Mobileye. The electronics giant contributed the so called EyeQ4 processor to the S-Cam 4. The processor increases the system's computing power by eight, ensuring high-performance object recognition.
© ZF
The ZF plant in Peterlee

100 percent safety guaranteed

100 percent safety guaranteed

So far, only the factory hall's structure for the new system in Peterlee is complete. The employees are still producing the units for the current generation. In addition to assembling the individual camera components by hand, the PCBs (printed circuit boards) are soldered and manufactured by machine. Various tests are carried out repeatedly during the process to decide whether each individual component will actually reach the next production stage. The lenses' acuity, for example, is tested both before and after assembly.
The PCBs are also tested repeatedly during their roughly nine-minute journey through the various manufacturing machines. During our tour through the plant, the printed circuit boards reached a ratio of more than 99.9 percent. Of the 2231 units produced in this period, a total of two were sorted out – two. "Each part has to work 100 percent, otherwise it doesn't leave the factory," says the leading engineer Aidan Barber during the tour of the plant. Even when time is pressing, safety, which can only be achieved at 100 percent, takes highest priority on the road to Vision Zero.
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