ZF Unveils New AI-Driven Forklift Truck

ZF’s has applied its experience creating autonomous passenger cars and commercial vehicles to creating a forklift truck with highly automated driving functions.

The networked forklift is fitted with a camera and radar system so that it can see its surrounding industrial environment.

Data from these inputs is analysed and ‘understood’ by the ZF ProAI central computer, which is based on the same AI systems used in prototype self-driving passenger cars and tractors.

In turn, commands are executed through elements like the ZF rear axle steering unit and the electric ZF single-wheel drive system.

“We are already playing a leading role when it comes to highly automated and autonomous driving – and that also includes industrial technology. It is no longer just about launching outstanding solutions that offer customers major benefits on the market. It’s about speed. The ZF innovation teams have proven this here in Hannover with their new products,” said ZF CEO Wolf-Henning Scheider at Hannover Messe.

“The highly automated ZF Innovation Forklift is the result of bundled know-how to create a unique and comprehensive solution that essentially embraces the main requirements of the industry: reducing costs and making materials handling processes far more efficient.”

The forklift will pave the way towards autonomous materials handling vehicles of the future and could accelerate the introduction of non-staffed warehousing – with machines going to storage locations, picking up goods and delivering them quickly and safely.

It has a powerful electric drive, with a lifting capacity of up to 3.5 tons, the ZF Innovation Truck is comparable to diesel forklifts that are typically used outdoors – without the emissions.

ZF has streamlined the carrier’s energy management system so that it can hold a battery charge for the length of a typical shift, meaning that operators don’t need as many replacement batteries on hand and can reduce costs.

It has inbuilt safety features, including object and pedestrian detection systems which instruct the vehicle to stop or move around an obstacle when a collision is imminent.

Deep learning algorithms that were originally developed for on the road vehicles and fleet cars have been honed down for industrial settings, preventing work accidents and damage in enclosed spaces.

The Innovation Forklift can operate in a digitalised production network and communicate with the materials management system, infrastructure and other vehicles.

This fleet management system allows data from individual forklift trucks to be managed and analysed. It takes into account, for example, the battery charge status during driving operations and can schedule recharging times when the trucks should head for the recharge stations.

Photos courtesy of ZF