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Global

Technology

#AutonomousEverything

AI is Gaining Ground in China

Min Reading Time
Tags: AutonomousDriving, Markets, ArtificialIntelligence
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is becoming the leading global market for artificial intelligence. From here, ZF is shaping global mobility with innovative, automated solutions.
Lars Weitbrecht, May 18, 2021
author_image
Lars Weitbrecht originally comes from the music and gaming industry, but in addition to holding a game pad or guitar in his hand, he also enjoys the power of the pen and the feel of the steering wheel.
The robot arm is extending and its trajectory is not stopped by the slightest hesitation. Like a tensioned spring, the metal flicks upward and forward. A basketball flies through the TV studio at high speed, heading straight for the basket. Amid the cheering of the audience, it falls through the hoop.

In the Chinese TV show 机智过人 (meaning "Human vs. AI" in English), human participants compete against supercomputers in a series of games. Most of the time, the computer wins.
Identifying dancing twins, playing sports or running interpretation contests: Artificial intelligence is used for gags on TV as if it were nothing extraordinary. This proves how strongly this technology is already rooted in Chinese society: Enthusiasm for artificial intelligence is omnipresent in the PRC.
"In China, there is an almost unquenchable thirst for progress in all sections of the population," explained Jeffrey Rochette, head of development at ZF China. "It is fascinating to see how quickly ideas turn into series products here."
The spirit of innovation that is characterized by this and the fast pace make Chinese companies valuable partners.
"The opportunities offered to our Group here are enormous," summarized Dr. Holger Klein, who, as a member of the ZF Board of Management, has been responsible for the Group's Asia-Pacific business from Shanghai since 2018.
"In China, there is an almost unquenchable thirst for progress in all sections of the population."
Jeffrey Rochette, Head of Development, ZF China

A market like no other

A market like no other
One reason for Klein's assessment is that China wants to become a world market leader in artificial intelligence by 2030, thus overtaking the U.S., which is still ahead in this area today.
The motivation behind this is primarily the market potential. While global sales of AI hardware, software and related services still amounted to $39.9 billion in 2019, they are expected to grow to more than $327 billion this year. According to current forecasts, the magic 500-billion threshold will be crossed by 2024 at the latest.
The main user of AI is the local mobility sector. According to China's largest English-language newspaper, "China Daily," the government intends to network intelligent vehicles in order to reduce the accident rate by 30 percent and emissions by 20 percent until 2025.
The penchant that many buyers here have for the latest technology is also fueling this trend. As early as 2018, surveys found that 75 percent of Chinese consumers were interested in autonomous vehicles. Moreover, 93 percent of the respondents would also be willing to dig deeper into their pockets to finance them. By way of comparison: In Germany, the figures are merely 40 percent and 59 percent, respectively.

Acceptance of Automotive Vehicles Worldwide

ZF in China: Strategically well positioned

ZF in China: Strategically well positioned
Huge market volume, fascinated consumers, state support: China is well on its way to becoming the leading market for AI-based applications. And as a leading technology company, ZF is well positioned to support this development and benefit from it. It is not without reason that the company has been strategically expanding its position in the country for decades.
"Since our market entry around 40 years ago, the Group's approach has changed from ’selling in China’ to ’developing in China,’" explained Dr. Klein. "In the meantime, we are already leading some global activities from China."
The Group has long since been establishing its engineering expertise for this. Meanwhile, ZF maintains three development centers in China, and the new Asia headquarters will open in Shanghai this year.
The Group already has or is still finding partners and customers for the AI business on-site. Baidu, for example, whose search engine handles 70 percent of all search queries in the country, has developed a solution for autonomous parking with ZF. Independently of ZF, Alibaba, the Far Eastern counterpart to Amazon, is working on a fleet of self-driving taxis. When it comes to integrating AI-based systems into automotive applications, ZF already has a lot to offer to the market.

AI-based technologies by ZF for the Chinese mobility sector

AI-based technologies by ZF for the Chinese mobility sector
With ZF ProAI, the Group just recently presented the most flexible, most scalable and most powerful automotive supercomputer. With impressive computing power, the control unit is the ideal platform for incorporating AI in the automobile. It enables the algorithms to analyze sensor data arriving in real time and derive instructions from them. The computing power is perfectly complemented by a unique modular approach. It provides OEMs with tailor-made solutions for all vehicle types and model platforms. The first order has already been placed, and the control unit will enter volume production in 2024.
ZF ProAI can handle all levels of autonomous driving up to Level 5. But it does not always have to be the full range of the AI scale. Even a less complex system can provide real added value for consumers. At the end of 2020, ZF's "coASSIST" made its debut in Dongfeng's Aeolus Yixuan model. This ZF product features Level 2+ functions, and offers drivers significant comfort and safety benefits at an affordable price. This is also an important success factor in the market as well as for the success of the Chinese market itself. After all, if more consumers can experience the benefits of AI-based solutions themselves, the demand for more powerful systems will increase, which in turn will promote the development of these systems.
But not only passenger cars benefit from AI. The booming logistics industry in China can also benefit from the technology and innovations that ZF provides for commercial vehicles.
"This segment will presumably be the first to show a broad use of automated driving functions because the usual scenarios – long journeys on wide expressways or during off-peak traffic times – can be implemented more easily with the current technical and economic means," said Dr. Klein.
The most recent example is the autonomous emergency braking assistance system "OnGuardMAX," which will enter volume production this year. The product that ZF developed for commercial vehicles is being installed in new models of two leading Chinese manufacturers. OnGuardMAX can recognize, evaluate and react independently to obstacles such as vehicles, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians. This offers a considerable safety plus in everyday logistics.

Developing in China for worldwide success

Developing in China for worldwide success
OnGuardMAX and coASSIST are also examples of how innovative ZF systems were first launched in the Chinese market. This approach is a blueprint for the future.
"Our investments on-site help us shape the future of mobility worldwide. And nothing is currently as exciting as the opportunities that artificial intelligence holds for us," emphasized Dr. Klein.
Not television entertainment, but technology for everyday life – for more efficiency, safety and sustainability in the automotive sector.

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