ALDENHOVEN, GERMANY. Long recognized as an innovator in global truck technologies, ZF Friedrichshafen AG (ZF) on Wednesday showed off its latest innovation, aptly titled Innovation Truck 2014, during an international trade press event here at the Aldenhoven Testing Center.

What makes this truck special, in addition to new technologies, such as the company’s TraXon transmission, expected to reach market in 2016 – although not initially in the U.S. – is its autonomous driving capabilities. ZF will showcase this vehicle and its technologies at the upcoming IAA Commercial Vehicle show in Hannover, Germany, Sept. 25 through Oct. 2.

The Innovation Truck, which is about 82 ft. long and features a tractor, semi-trailer and additional trailing trailer, is operated through software on an Android tablet. It has three forward and reverse speeds, the fastest being about 2.5 mph. Using Bluetooth, the operator can be up to approximately 328 ft. from the vehicle while maintaining total control.

“[This is our] answer to autonomous driving,” said Fredrik Staedtler, senior executive vice president, commercial vehicle technology. The truck provides ZF the opportunity to “emphasize the potential of our new technologies,” he added.

The operator simply holds their finger on the tablet and directs the truck where they want it to go. Remove the finger and the truck will stop. It is technology that has been adapted from the automotive world, said ZF experts, who have been working on the prototype system on trucks for about 10 months.

There are no fleet testing partners as of yet lined up, but ZF is ready to deploy the system once a fleet steps forward.

The connective technology on the truck includes a ZF TraXon Hybrid transmission, not yet in production, and steering technology from ZF Lenksysteme combined with telematics software from Openmatics.

The Innovation Truck is a joint project of ZF Friedrichshafen AG, ZF Lenksysteme GmbH – a joint venture of ZF and Bosch – and Openmatics s.r.o.,

“With our Innovation Truck, we illustrate the additional potential already present in our current technologies,” said ZF’s CEO Dr. Stefan Sommer. “We have realized completely new assistant functions that are incredibly efficient and, at the same time, relatively simple to implement. They can also provide answers to many of the complex challenges that forwarding and logistics companies face on a daily basis.”

ZF officials envision the technology being used in company yards or distribution centers, generally anywhere a truck could maneuver without the need for a driver. For instance, it was explained that it would improve efficiency if a driver could bring his truck in for loading or unloading, and then instead of waiting for that process to complete, turn the vehicle over to a local operator who would handle positioning the trailer into a dock, dropping the current trailer in the yard and then hooking up another loaded trailer, or other such activity while the driver could go inside to take mandatory breaks. When the driver is ready to resume driving, the truck will be ready as well.

Other benefits include safety, said Olrik Weinmann, project manager in Advanced Engineering and Testing at ZF, thanks to the “maneuvering assistant,” which can be helpful navigating tight yards.

“The maneuvering assistant in the Innovation Truck completely relieves the driver of this steering work and much more,” he said. “They can get out and move the tractor-trailer to the exact position required with only small finger movements and using a special tablet app.”

The vehicle’s transmission is the TraXon Hybrid automatic transmission, which features an electric motor delivering 120 kW of power. A “dry clutch” enables hybrid functionality for purely electric maneuvering of the truck. The system’s battery has enough voltage to handle multiple maneuvers. The TraXon operates as a normal transmission when needed.

Also, the advanced ZF-Servotwin superimposed steering system for commercial vehicles comes standard with an electric motor in addition to the combustion engine-driven hydraulic pump that provides the main power. This allows autonomous steering maneuvers with zero emissions thanks to the auto-ignition shut off. A modified hydraulic pump unit that is a pure electrohydraulic solution (electrohydraulic power steering or EHPS) is also used. The pump is driven by two ZF-Servotwin powerpacks.

The Openmatics Telematics system consists of an onboard or connectivity unit, sensor technology for data recording, and special software.

Both vehicle speed and the vehicle itself are displayed on the tablet. Once the drive position and speed have been selected by touch, the tablet user only needs to keep a finger on the front of the truck or the back of the trailer on the touchscreen, and the all-electric drive sets the Innovation Truck in motion. To steer left or right requires only a slide of the finger on the screen. For safety, if contact between the tablet and truck is lost, the vehicle will stop automatically.

“From a purely technical point of view, it would also be possible for trucks at the depot to move to the loading ramp or parking position completely on their own, i.e., even without the remote control app,” said Weinmann. “This, however, requires a different infrastructure at the depots and is thus a vision for the future.”