Miriam Beck has a relentless passion for software. The manager of Portfolio Management System House Vehicle Motion Control, also responsible for Strategy & Partnership, has been with the ZF Group for 16 years. During that time she has witnessed a genuine paradigm shift: “In the beginning, the software was there to provide the best possible support for hardware components – for example through the optimal control of an eight-speed automatic transmission. But today we are thinking about how to implement the intelligent networking of all vehicle systems for optimal longitudinal, lateral and vertical dynamics.”
At the end of 2022, this new approach produced the latest big advance: the first series application of ZF cubiX, a software package that controls all chassis functions such as brakes, front and rear axle steering and active roll stabilization as well as the electric drive of the new Lotus Eletre Sports SUV.
cubiX is an example of the trend towards the software-based vehicle, moving away from multiple control units for various hardware components and towards cross-functional domain and zone architectures. Until now, dampers, brakes or rear axle steering systems have each had their own separate control unit for driving dynamics, requiring complex coordination.
Beck, who studied industrial engineering, realized that networking would be the game changer for the future of mobility while still at university: The self-described car and technology fan specialized in automotive engineering during her first degree and got involved in the Formula Student Team at the Ravensburg University of Applied Sciences. In the ZF-sponsored challenge, university teams from all over the world go head to head with racing cars that they design and build themselves. The judging is based not only on technical knowledge and design expertise, but also on organizational skills, project management and budgeting. “In the electric drives in the Formula Student cars, software played a much bigger role than in the combustion engines used in the past. In the end, software became the key factor,” she recalls. After that experience, her choice to write her diploma thesis on hybrid drive development at ZF was only logical. She followed this by completing an MBA while working full-time, with a master’s thesis on the market development of electric vehicles.
Seeing past the technology to take in the big strategic picture has always been important to Miriam Beck: “In System House Vehicle Motion I can fully realize my ideas on cross-divisional thinking,” she says. “The system know-how from the entire ZF Group meets up with decades of experience in braking and steering systems, active damping systems and drive technology. Our goal with cubiX is to optimize driving behavior with a view to comfort, dynamics and efficiency and, through defined interfaces, to offer a platform for new functions that can be developed and updated and expanded over the product lifetime regardless of the vehicle configuration.
But we will be able to provide these functions with the required series production readiness only because ZF, far from being a software start-up, can draw on more than 100 years experience in the development of automotive hardware. A key prerequisite: an interdisciplinary team with a broad background – and being open to exchanging ideas with all of the experts throughout the Group.
An example of ZF’s unique know-how: the steer-by-wire technology. Instead of a rigid steering column, electronic signals transmit the driver's commands to the steering. This enables new safety and comfort functions and is a breakthrough on the road to autonomous driving.
Especially in this interdisciplinary competency, ZF sees itself at a clear advantage – and not only for employees, but for customers too: “The unique diversity of backgrounds and experience and the agility of our developers across all components and systems ultimately yields a higher level of networking. This expands our own horizons and enables us to achieve a special, comprehensive quality in our products – like cubiX.” The first software product by the group demonstrates that e-mobility will mean a quantum leap for ZF: because the company got involved in electric motors and power electronics at a very early stage, it is now possible to integrate the drive system into a vehicle motion control software ecosystem – a development that would have been almost inconceivable with combustion engines. “At ZF we have all of the tracking and control functions for the longitudinal, lateral and vertical motions of a vehicle in-house. This enables us to collect and combine data from all functional areas and use them to develop new products,” says Miriam Beck, outlining the unique selling proposition of ZF. cubiX also benefits from this crucial factor. Another advantage: the platform is compatible with actuators from different manufacturers. This offers customers such as car manufacturers (OEMs) the flexibility to produce different model series with one and the same control platform without additional integration effort.
A strategy that strives for cleaner and safer mobility in the future is an approach that Miriam Beck can identify with. “I graduated from university in the middle of the 2007/2008 financial crisis when practically every company had a hiring freeze. But even in that situation, ZF stuck to its policy of investing in the future and hiring people who could make contributions with their qualifications. I was impressed by this determination to shape a positive future.”One thing that fascinates her more than anything else about her current task: “With the series premiere of our cubiX software, we are making a strong statement on our system competency in the vehicle dynamics of software-defined vehicles.
Future updates or upgrades to the software can be carried out "over-the-air" – i.e. wirelessly without a visit to the workshop. In this way, the software remains up to date throughout the vehicle's life, meaning that additional functions can always be added after the vehicle is delivered.”