NOVI, Mich.—Self-driving vehicles will bring new performance and design requirements to the automotive sector, and that means more opportunities for advanced materials and manufacturing technologies.
Speakers at the 2019 WardsAuto Interiors Conference, held May 9, discussed these opportunities during a morning breakout session on how autonomous vehicles will drive the need for new materials.
Surfaces, especially in shared vehicles, will need to be durable, cleanable, antimicrobial and scratch-resistant, said Rose Ryntz, president of Ryntz & Associates L.L.C.
"Certainly, all of the things we have been working on over the past decade—from mass reduction to odor and (volatile organic compounds)—have not gone away and, in fact, because of the global nature will be even more important," said Ryntz, who moderated the discussion.
New materials, smart functions
AVs, in some combination with electric vehicles and car sharing, will require interior components and materials to meet new functional values, said Robert Eller, president of Robert Eller Associates L.L.C.
"The supply chain is going to evolve to meet the requirements, and many of the materials capabilities already exist," Eller said.
Smart materials, especially, will help to enable some of the future functions auto makers and suppliers are pursuing. This means materials that have one or more properties that respond to various types of external stimuli, such as stress or pressure, and react to it by self-healing or being electroactive, photosensitive or photochromic, Eller explained.
"'Smart' is a combination of sensing and sending, so sensing pressure, electricity, heat, etc., and sending that signal somewhere to react to what's being picked up," he said. "So, if you look at where you need sensing, that's where 'smart' will be applied."
In car sharing, Eller said, aspects such as wear resistance, privacy and more versatile connectivity are important topics going forward.
There are also opportunities for coatings to serve multiple functions such as keeping surfaces and lidar detectors clean, grease resistance to minimize fingerprint marks and antiglare for touchscreens, among other options.
"Another concept is that sensors are going to drive design and what I mean by that is plastics will have a relationship to sensors," Eller said. "They've got to be protected. They've got to be mounted. They've got to be shown where they can perform their function, and plastics will have to be designed around them."
Projection screens—whether on a headliner or rear seatback—could also become more dominant in an autonomous vehicle, where the seating arrangement can be altered, and occupants can take their eyes off the road to do other things.
Eller said instrument panel skins are also being developed as image projection surfaces, which in the future could be places for data collection, health monitoring, entertainment or advertising.
He showed an introductory concept of a display skin made of thermoplastic polyolefin, with or without foam, from South Korea's LG Hausys Ltd. The display skin is translucent and can display intuitive information, such as weather conditions and vehicle data, via touch sensors. Though the product is still under development, LG Hausys claims it can pass OEM specifications.
"Smart applications are going to open new opportunities for sending and receiving signals, displays, acoustics and entertainment, interior lighting and signaling, and projecting images," Eller said. "Cleanability will become an important functional value. … And there are lots and lots of short-term opportunities on the way to AVs."