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Research & Development

We are Developing the Mobility of the Future

The ZF Group strategy "Next Generation Mobility" clearly states the R&D task: Ensuring clean, safe, comfortable and affordable mobility – for everyone and everywhere. To this end, last year ZF invested in the future sectors of new vehicle functions, software, artificial intelligence and efficient, electrified drive systems in particular.

Technology Enablers

We have defined four enablers for our path to implementing our technology strategy:

Vehicle System & Functions:

In the future, vehicles will be increasingly controlled by system functions. This cluster is developing the necessary architectures and software methods as well as the structure of these system functions.

Data Handling & Analytics:

This cluster focuses on vehicle connectivity and communication with the infrastructure, from embedded components to the platform necessary for data analysis, and algorithms including artificial intelligence.

Efficient energy conversion:

We are researching and developing the efficient storage and conversion of electrical energy as well as systematic algorithms for optimized vehicle control. We are working on efficient drives and efficient energy management. We see great potential for new semiconductors, especially in power electronics.

Advanced Base Technology:

This cluster deals with basic technologies that make complex vehicle functions possible, including modern, high-resolution sensors, artificial intelligence, powerful central electronic controls and cutting-edge materials for efficient power electronics.

It’s All About Software

In order to develop individual approaches for customer-oriented software solutions, ZF presented the open software platform "ZF middleware" and set up a Global Software Center. Dr. Dirk Walliser, Senior Vice President Research & Development, Innovation & Technology, explains the new approach.

Dr. Walliser, today's vehicles mainly differ in terms of their hardware. Is that changing?
Dirk Walliser: Mobility services, autonomous driving and the connection to the cloud are hardly possible without intelligent software. Software expertise is increasingly becoming a key factor for innovations and an indispensable feature of technology leaders.
This also applies to mobility and industrial applications: The prerequisite for successful products is the ability to network individual components to comprehensive systems that act and learn independently thanks to artificial intelligence and deep learning algorithms. In this respect, we are actually talking about a "software-defined vehicle."
Dr. Dirk Walliser, Senior Vice President Research & Development, Innovation & Technology
Read the complete interview

So, cars are turning into what some have described as "smartphones on wheels?"

No, even if operating a vehicle is becoming more and more like using a smartphone, the difference lies primarily in the type and number of hardware systems that a software platform – such as the "ZF middleware" – intelligently interconnects in such a way that people or goods can be transported comfortably and safely at all times.

Is this software platform a new offer from ZF?

Yes, it is. The "ZF middleware" is ZF's new open software platform that acts as an intermediary between the operating system of a vehicle's computer and its software applications. As of 2024, it will be available in volume production vehicles and control the abstraction of the computer hardware from software applications and the communication between these applications.

How does this benefit your customers?

Decisive advantages are accelerated development processes and reduced complexity. Today, vehicles can have around 100 different control units, each with its own software. In the future, software functions will run on a single central platform with few domain control units – for example for automated driving functions. With the "ZF middleware," all functions can be developed and integrated independently of the hardware. In addition, updates, extensions or additional options can be offered throughout the vehicle's entire service life.

What role do these developments play in the transformation to "Next Generation Mobility?"

The foundation of the Global Software Center and the "ZF middleware" underscore our claim to be one of the world's leading systems suppliers for software-defined cars. The development is closely linked to that of application software for technology fields such as automated driving, integrated safety, vehicle motion control and electromobility. We have created the prerequisites for this in the past few years: Thanks to our own scalable "ZF ProAI" supercomputing platform for next-generation vehicles, we offer traditional and new automotive customers comprehensive systems consisting of software, computing and sensor hardware as well as connected actuators. For new digital apps, the "Data Venture Accelerator," an international hub for the data business, sets up agile start-ups. With this, we can make an essential contribution to greater safety and efficiency.


R&D Expenditure Increases

In the fiscal year 2021, we invested €3,060 million (2020: €2,516 million) in research and development. This corresponds to a sales share of 8.0% (2020: 7.7%).

Again Numerous Patent Applications

In the year under review, a total of 2,624 invention disclosures (2020: 2,164) were filed by the Group. The filings led to 1,862 (2020: 1,264) new patent applications.

The ZF Technology Strategy in a Nutshell

Last year, ZF continued to work on refining its technology strategy. Its objective is to provide further technology solutions for the requirements of electrified mobility throughout the Group. The technology development process ranges from trendscouting in the Innovation Factory and technology evaluation to accelerated agile advanced engineering and initial business contact. All these steps are closely linked.

High priority is given to digitalization and software development. ZF is constantly working on expanding its business models for digital products and services as well as for pure software products. In addition, the Group invests in setting up and expanding global centers for the core competencies of software development, artificial intelligence (AI), cyber security and system development.

Further digitalization in the product evolution process and the introduction of virtual validation methods with the help of digital product twins support R&D efforts.

Technology Domains

Digitalization and Software

Digitalization and Software

Data will play an even more important role in the future. After all, the vast amount of information enables a wealth of new functions and business models. Therefore, Corporate R&D is working intensively on using data in all technology fields. An example of this is the ADAS.AI project. Developers are using artificial intelligence to significantly increase the usage efficiency of test data.
With the "ZF Middleware," the technology company has created a central software platform for the software-defined car. The middleware acts as a service provider for all software applications and enables them to exchange data.

Automated Driving

Automated Driving

Testing and safeguarding vehicle systems play a key role when introducing fully automated and autonomous driving functions. In the market, the competitive advantage goes to the OEMs and suppliers who master the verification and validation process in a time- and cost-efficient manner within the framework of legal requirements. For this reason, ZF in cooperation with renowned German OEMs and universities is developing systematics for the practical safety evidence for automated vehicles within the "V&V Methods" project sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Economics.
Following the successful development of ADAS.AI advanced driver assistance systems for the transformation of camera images, the company uses artificial intelligence for the transformation of radar signals in the "RADAR.AI" project.
The driver assistance systems for commercial vehicles reduce the risk of accidents as well as personnel and time efforts at the depot. For use in highly automated trucks, ZF develops the ProAI RoboThink central computer for a fully automated Level-4-System.

Electric Mobility

Electric Mobility

In order to increase the range of battery electric vehicles, we are focusing on improving drive efficiency. We are working intensively on improving the technologies used, for example wide-band-gap semiconductors or new cooling processes. Further improvements are made by intelligently optimizing the overall system (driveline, brake, chassis, driving strategy). Calculations and initial tests have shown that energy savings of about 15% are to be expected.
For commercial vehicle applications, we are developing a new modular electric construction kit for central and axle drives. Our electrified eTrailer received the CLEPA Innovation Award 2020 in the “Environment” category. The semitrailer with integrated electric axle converts a conventional truck with combustion engine into a hybrid vehicle. This innovation can save up to 16% fuel and up to 7% on long-distance routes.

Vehicle Motion Control

Vehicle Motion Control

ZF has further developed its cubiX control app, which runs on a central control unit. cubiX connects and controls all longitudinal, transverse and vertical dynamic systems in the vehicle (steering system, brake system, etc.). It is therefore a "Vehicle Motion Control Coordinator."
Our software platform ADOPT (Autonomous Driving Open Platform Technology) records AI-based data and immediately converts it into precise instructions for the actuators. Thus, we combine the expertise in the field of autonomous driving with artificial intelligence.

Integrated Safety

Integrated Safety

The integrated vehicle safety connects active and passive safety technology. This will achieve far more than any of the two disciplines can do individually. The improvement of integrated vehicle safety goes hand in hand with the development of autonomous and automated driving. Advances in safety technology with ever more powerful control units as well as sensors for monitoring the vehicle environment and the vehicle interior form the basis for more and more semi-automatic and fully automatic driving functions.
Integrated safety increases comfort and supports the driver with easy-to-use assistance systems as well as functions such as vehicle occupant health monitoring. In critical driving situations, technology can assist and protect the occupants.


"It's just rewarding to work on a meaningful, innovative product. I think it is great to actively shape the future of e-mobility together!"

Morteza Djebeli-Sinaki works as a software and function developer in E-Mobility on applications ranging from pedelec to large commercial vehicles.

Creativity and Impact

ZF is a globally leading technology company that is creating the mobility solutions of tomorrow. We develop and design products to achieve the ultimate goal of zero emissions and zero accidents. Our innovative strength lies in combining traditional automotive components with ground-breaking digital technology.

Dynamic Environment and International Markets

In a world that is rapidly changing, it is critical that we respond fast and flexibly in order to continue to shape the future trends of mobility.

Possibility and Growth

As a globally attractive employer, ZF has many diverse international work opportunities to offer its employees. Our financial independence allows us to invest wisely in research and development now and in the future.

Reliability and Partnership

Constructive feedback, teamwork and mutual respect are the guiding principles of working life at ZF. We encourage employees to work to the best of their ability by offering performance-based and structured professional development opportunities.

Current publications

Download the 2021 Annual Report

Is the future programmable? Software will be a decisive factor for success in the mobility industry, and not just for ZF. Because the automobile is increasingly software-defined, the company is pushing the topic to the forefront of its thinking and actions. It is therefore no surprise that the Annual Report has a strong software theme in terms of both look and content. Find all the key facts and figures on the 2021 annual accounts in this downloadable PDF.