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Software as a Product in the Chassis of the Future

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Advanced assistance systems, over-the-air updates: Software is becoming a key differentiator in automotive industry. With the comprehensive cubiX vehicle motion control platform, ZF is launching its first software-only product in volume production.
Kathrin Wildemann, August 18, 2021
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Kathrin Wildemann has been a part of the permanent Copy Team at ZF since 2016. In her online and offline articles, she likes to cover electromobility and other topics that involve sustainability.
It happens to the most attentive of drivers: When traveling on an unknown route, the exit suddenly comes sooner or sharper than expected. Now a quick turning maneuver! For modern cars, a corner taken a little too swiftly is usually no problem thanks to various assistance systems. Within fractions of a second, sensors, brakes and steering system react to stabilize the vehicle and keep it safely on the road. However, if the road is wet or covered with potholes when performing such a maneuver, it might be too much for the vehicle to handle.

Previous vehicle architecture places clear limits on the performance of assistance systems: All components involved have their own control units that have to coordinate their actions with each other in real time. This makes it difficult to cope with complex driver assistance systems or really dangerous situations.

Holistic chassis control for smart assistance systems

Holistic chassis control for smart assistance systems

ZF is now changing this with the cubiX vehicle motion control coordinator, which merges all components involved in the vehicle's longitudinal, transverse and vertical dynamics into a common control unit. Based on sensor data from the entire vehicle, the platform coordinates steering system, brakes, chassis and drive actuators as a holistic system. This way, cubiX not only optimizes vehicle handling with regard to comfort, dynamics and efficiency, but also forms the basis for sophisticated ADAS functionalities. As the first software-only product from ZF, cubiX offers another decisive advantage: The platform is compatible with various actuators, regardless of the manufacturer or the specific design. This gives manufacturers the flexibility to implement different model ranges without additional integration efforts with the same control platform – and lays the foundation for new business concepts.
André Engelke, Head of the Vehicle Motion Control System House, explains cubiX's domain architecture approach.

Architecture change in the software-based car

Architecture change in the software-based car

Thus, cubiX is an example of a decisive trend on the path towards a software-based vehicle: moving away from the many individual control units of different hardware components, towards cross-functional domain and zone architectures. This development takes account of the increasing complexity of automotive control software. Until now, dampers, brakes or rear axle steering systems each have their own control unit or logic which has to be elaborately integrated into the overall vehicle architecture. The new E/E architectures bundle all software for a specific functional area (the so-called domain) of the car on a central, actuator-independent control unit. "This comprehensive control unit saves manufacturers time and effort as well as compromises in fine tuning and driving dynamics in terms of performance, comfort and efficiency of the vehicle. At the same time, it gives them the opportunity to combine complex assistance systems without any problems," explains cubiX project manager Dr. Caspar Lovell. "With cubiX, we have software that can be perfectly integrated into the new E/E architectures of future vehicles – whether signal-based or service-oriented."
cubiX provides standardized interfaces to eliminate individual dependencies.

Another important point for the versatility of the platform is the clear definition of known interfaces. OEMs can combine cubiX with any hardware as well as with additional software applications without having to change the basic architecture. Thus, different equipment and model variants can be realized without additional effort.

From driving dynamics to autonomous driving: the right package for every customer

From driving dynamics to autonomous driving: the right package for every customer

As important as this separation of hardware and software is for traditional manufacturers, it does not apply across the industry. New players in the automotive industry and mobility service providers often have no preferences with regard to hardware or capacities to integrate a wide variety of components into their control systems. These new automotive customers expect their suppliers to deliver a complete system from a single source – a requirement easy to meet with cubiX thanks to its modular concept combined with tried and tested ZF actuators.

In order to meet all requirements of its various customer groups, ZF cubiX offers three different variants – from the cubiX Performance Drive, focusing on driving dynamics, to the cubiX ADAS, which is optimized for advanced assistance functions, to cubiX AD for autonomous driving from SAE Level 4 onwards. Here, the system assumes full responsibility for the implementation of the driving trajectory including the cubiX Safety System. If desired, the individual cubiX variants can also be combined in one software thanks to the scalable concept.
Automotive software will reach a market volume of
469 billion US dollars
by 2030 – almost twice as much as in 2020.

André Engelke, responsible for the Vehicle Motion Control System House at ZF, sees the Group at the forefront of this topic: "ZF is optimally positioned to establish itself in the area of Software as a Product or Software as a Service. Our broad actuator portfolio and the software know-how that is deeply rooted in various Group divisions give us an enormous advantage here. It is decisive that we can offer our customers this knowledge as an overall system." This is not a declaration of intent: cubiX will enter volume production at a Chinese OEM as early as next year. Meanwhile, ZF experts are already working on the further development of cubiX. In addition to the conventional signal-based communication architecture, future cubiX versions will also be able to offer services based on a service-oriented architecture.
"ZF is optimally positioned to establish itself in the area of Software as a Product or Software as a Service. Our broad actuator portfolio and the software know-how that is deeply rooted in various Group divisions give us an enormous advantage here."
André Engelke, Head of System House Vehicle Motion Control, ZF