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ZF’s AI = New Jobs

German supplier looking to hire 800 American engineers ASAP.

by on Jan.10, 2017

Jobs are open "immediately," says ZF CEO Sommer.

The push into smart vehicle technology is creating a burst of employment opportunities in the auto industry, as manufacturers and suppliers look for the engineering talent needed to put advanced safety and automotive vehicles systems on the road.

ZF, one of the industry’s larger suppliers, said Tuesday it will hire 800 engineers and support staff in the U.S., most of those jobs opening up “in Michigan,” said CEO Stefan Sommer, with others going to the maker’s Silicon Valley technical center.

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Based in Germany, ZF Friedrichshafen AG is perhaps best known for its transmissions, such as the nine-speed gearboxes used by a wide range of manufacturers including Jaguar Land Rover and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. But, in recent years, it has expanded into a variety of other key component systems, with a focus on digital controls, such as electronically selectable suspensions.

It is now trying to push into autonomous vehicle development, offering manufacturers what Sommer called a “turnkey solution” capable of handling anything up to what, in industry terms, is known as Level 4 autonomy. That allows a vehicle to operate in almost all circumstances hands-free, though a human would still be available to take control.

(EVs, autonomous vehicles hasten auto industry examination. Click Here for the story.)

At the Consumer Electroncs Show in Las Vegas last week, ZF announced the launch of a new artificial intelligence controller that will anchor its autonomous vehicle system. It was developed in partnership with tech giant NVDIA. Dubbed ProAI, it will also have potential applications in a variety of other areas, including electronic controls and in manufacturing.

Rinspeed is at it again, creating a haven for drivers and autonomous driving in its Oasis concept.

Sommer said he expects the first use of ProAI will, in fact, be in a factory floor application where its ability to learn on the job will have a number of advantages.

The ProAI system could alternatively be sold as either part of a broad hardware and software system or as a standalone device, Sommer explained.

(Click Here for more about Rinspeed’s Oasis.)

He also said, during an interview at the North American International Auto Show Tuesday, that ZF could create additional jobs in the U.S. when ProAI begins to sell. The supplier intends to produce it in the market where its customers are based.

ZF’s NAIAS stand displays many of the technologies it wants to see automakers under the skin of a concept vehicle called the Oasis. The two-seat electric vehicle was created as part of a partnership with Rinspeed, a Swiss design and engineering firm known for its eclectic concept vehicles. The Oasis includes not only a twin-motor battery drive but various smart mechanical systems.

That includes a steering system that can allow the Oasis to nearly spin in circles, Sommer noted.

(FCA’s Marchionne races to answer product development questions. For the story, Click Here.)

While the Oasis does not use the ProAI system, Sommer said, it could easily be integrated into the concept vehicle to give it full Level 4 driving capabilities.

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