PALO ALTO, CA – German supplier ZF furthers the capabilities of its ProAI “supercomputer” by showing at the 2018 CES a vehicle with Level 4 autonomous capability, or the ability to drive itself in nearly all scenarios.

It also announces the first customer for ProAI, an unnamed Chinese automaker that will install the control box in a vehicle with Level 3 autonomous driving features for the Chinese market. The deal is a result of a partnership between ZF, chip specialist NVIDIA and Chinese search-engine giant Baidu.

Here on Friday, ZF took media to Baidu’s U.S. R&D center for a demonstration of ProAI on a smaller, more affordable scale. Baidu is using a ProAI control unit in a sedan by Chinese automaker Panda Auto to demonstrate automated parking, for which Baidu wrote the code.

Baidu, as part of its Apollo self-driving car program, has announced it will begin production of Level 3 autonomous vehicles in 2019 and Level 4 by 2021, in partnership with Chinese automaker BAIC.

With Panda Auto, Baidu wants to develop an autonomous car-sharing service. Baidu and Panda are testing on public roads in China, but in the U.S. vehicles have yet to leave Baidu’s parking lot, company representatives say.

Regarding its Level 4 autonomous vehicle at CES, ZF says its engineers have trained the vehicle to perform specific functions in tricky urban environments, such as interacting with pedestrians at crosswalks and judging traffic at lights and roundabouts.

ProAI, shown at last year’s CES by ZF and NVIDIA, has an open architecture and is scalable, meaning autonomous driving need not be the domain of luxury vehicles, ZF representatives say.

The hardware components, connected-sensor sets, evaluation software and functional modules can be adapted for the desired purpose and degree of automation, the supplier says.

The ProAI-equipped Level 4 autonomous vehicle on ZF’s CES stand is a digital twin of a vehicle in the supplier’s hometown of Friedrichshafen, Germany.

“You will see that car dreaming,” Arnold Schlegel of ZF’s advanced engineering team in Friedrichshafen tells media here Friday of the stationary vehicle on ZF’s CES stand. “The car will think it’s in Friedrichshafen currently, driving, and we manipulate the sensor inputs to let the car think it’s dreaming. And you’ll see the actuators are doing their job.”

Schlegel further explains that with the exception of its steering wheel moving, the CES show vehicle is standing still.

The ProAI-equipped dreaming vehicle at CES uses an Xavier chip with 8-core CPU architecture and has 7 billion transistors and the corresponding performance data, ZF says, adding it manages up to 30 trillion operations per second (TOPS) with a power consumption of 30 watts.

“The chip complies with the strictest standards for automotive applications – just like ZF ProAI itself – creating the conditions for artificial intelligence and deep learning,” the supplier says.

Using the cautionary example of Kodak, Mamatha Chamarthi, chief digital officer for ZF, says the 102-year-old automotive supplier, best known for its transmissions and chassis systems, must innovate or it will become a shadow of itself.

“The leadership courage to balance innovation with traditional business” is key to a company’s future success, Chamarthi says Saturday during a media briefing. “At the top level of the organization and throughout the organization we look at comprehensively, ‘Are we balancing our core business’ – because our core business is our cash cow – with uncertain investments? Companies will not have that first-mover advantage and will not be able to survive (if they don’t innovate),” she says.

ZF is making investments in the fields of artificial intelligence and autonomous driving as part of its Vision Zero plan. As with many auto suppliers and automakers, ZF says it is pursuing autonomous vehicle technology to bring about zero vehicle-related deaths globally, noting 1.3 million such deaths occur annually around the world.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com