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ZF adds partners to develop autonomous shuttle services

ZF Friedrichshafen is ramping up its investments in autonomous shuttles, investing in a British software startup and partnering with the German national transport system as it positions itself as an integrated supplier of self-driving shuttles and the services need to run them. 

The supplier said Thursday that it had acquired a 5 percent stake in Oxford, England-based Oxbotica and will take a seat on the autonomous-driving software company’s board. The two companies plan to develop a Level 4 self-driving system that will first be used in passenger shuttles.

Also Thursday, ZF announced a strategic partnership with DB Regio to speed up the adoption of autonomous shuttles on roads in Germany. DB Regio said in a news release that about 35,000 autonomous buses or shuttles will be needed in Germany by 2035 to meet public transport needs.

In May, ZF and Intel’s Mobileye unit said they will jointly develop advanced safety systems — including automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and lane keeping systems — for Toyota Motor. 

ZF has been involved in autonomous shuttles for a number of years. The supplier has a majority stake in 2getthere, which operates autonomous minibuses in Rotterdam that can carry 22 passengers in a “semi-controlled environment.” It has also operated a number of pilot projects over the past 20 years, and has others in the works, including at the Brussels airport.

Other ventures include e.Go Moove, a partnership announced in 2019 to build an autonomous shuttle.

ZF said in 2018 that it was investing 12 billion euros ($13.6 million) in autonomous technologies in the next five years.

Torsten Gollewski, head of autonomous systems at ZF, said it was critical to partner with public transport companies such as DB Regio.

“Making the right technology available doesn’t mean that sustainable mobility will automatically happen,” he said in an online event Thursday to announce the partnerships.

Gollewski would not say what revenue or profits ZF was expecting from autonomous shuttle technology. ZF can offer a turn-key solution, he said, including service and route planning, apps for users to hail the shuttles, the shuttles themselves and associated software, and maintenance and operations.

As of now, ZF is not collaborating with automakers on the shuttles, but he said the supplier was talking with a range of potential partners.

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