ZF highlights remote-controlled trucks, new transmission

Updated Jan 12, 2015

Commercial vehicle component supplier ZF is pushing the envelope of future truck technology. At a rain-soaked test track in western Germany, the company showcased a wide array of new commercial vehicle systems. The highlights of these new products, however, have to be an all-new dual-clutch automated manual transmission and the new Smart Truck Maneuvering System, which allows a driver to position a truck from outside the cab using a tablet computer.

ZF’s Smart Truck Maneuver System is designed for tight or hazardous situations and allows the driver to exit the truck and park or drive it using a tablet.ZF’s Smart Truck Maneuver System is designed for tight or hazardous situations and allows the driver to exit the truck and park or drive it using a tablet.

The new Traxon AMT is ZF’s successor to its ground-breaking ASTronic AMT, which will continue in production for the foreseeable future. Traxon builds on the advances in software and computing power that have occurred since the introduction of the ASTronic, with an eye toward increasing safety, comfort and control for the driver. “At ZF, we see the engine as the heart of a truck,” says Frederik Staedtler, global head of ZF’s commerical vehicle operations. “But today, the automated transmission is the brains of the truck. And this is one of the guiding principles in the design of the new Traxon AMT.”

The most visible aspect of this philosophy is the predictive cruise control feature on new transmission. Traxon software is tied in with GPS navigational systems to accurately track and predict upcoming terrain features, then adjust gear selection and shift patterns as well as throttle input to manage them effectively. So, if Traxon is alerted via GPS that a steep grade is approaching, the AMT’s software will begin building up additional torque (and speed) to avoid deceleration. Drivers no longer have to intervene when using cruise control to maintain vehicle speed in those conditions. Likewise, if the system detects the vehicle is on a long downgrade, it can dial down throttle levels to maximize fuel economy.

ZF engineers targeted both noise suppression and shift smoothness as primary design goals for the new AMT. A dual-clutch design provides extremely smooth, seamless shifts — even fully loaded at highway speeds. The result is an automated manual transmission that shifts and feels like a full automatic transmission with a torque converter. ZF also designed the overall package with five, modular components. This allows the transmission to be precisely spec’d to meet a wide range of fleet applications from vocational work to long-haul.

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An even more interesting glimpse into the future was the new Smart Truck Maneuvering system. This prototype system is fitted on ZF’s Innovation Truck test vehicle. The Innovation Truck features a hybrid electric drive that is mated to a highly sophisticated remote control system. In tight — or potentially hazardous — surroundings, a driver can climb out of the cab and use a tablet computer to precisely move the truck on electric power. Backing, turning and parking can be accomplished easily on the tablet. The system (which I tested) was intuitive to operate and surprisingly easy to use.

These new products, and others introduced today for the global bus market, show a new direction for ZF, Staedtler notes. “Increasingly, electronics, software, actuators and electrification are becoming more important in commercial vehicle development and technology,” he explains. “This is a trend ZF understands is investing heavily in today to build safer, more productive vehicles in the future.”

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