Day 2 of Automotive Interiors Expo 2018 has provided a fantastic array of new technology launches and announcements from leading exhibitors, with a particular focus on the impact autonomy will have on cabin design.
Autonomous vehicles, particularly those capable of Level 4 and Level 5 operation, will not only dramatically change what transportation means for passengers but also how cabin designers and materials suppliers approach projects in the future.
This was the opinion of Reutlingen University, which was in attendance at Automotive Interiors Expo to show off the latest projects from its Transportation Interior Design course. The work created by students at the university is driving ideas for the future of interior design, and it has recently worked with German car manufacturer Opel, as well as lighting company Osram.
“Autonomy will change interior design a lot, often the designs of cars we’re looking at are like living rooms," said Kimberly Miling, a student at the university. "The seats are like a sofa because you have nothing else to do. If passengers aren’t driving, you have to give them other activities they can do like work or relax, so you have to look at the target group and find out what their interests are and then try to incorporate them into the design."
Meanwhile PolyOne, which designs and processes interior parts, was at the show to discuss solutions to manufacturing challenges. “There was a guy from VW at a conference who said ‘the car of the future will be a cell phone on wheels’, which stuck with me,” said Matthew Defosse, PolyOne's marketing development manager.
“That ‘cell phone’ will have to be easy to use and we use colours to do this. If I’m a passenger in a car share, I’ll be jumping in and out of different cars and will have to quickly orientate myself. Colour in materials and textures will play a big part in helping people to identify functions.”
Defosse also shared Miling’s of how cars of the future will be used and what challenges might arise from a materials point of view.
“The car will be a moving living room and you’re going to want comfort plus safety, durability, and ensure it is easy to clean as people will do more in the cars, such as eating. Autonomous car sharing will require antimicrobials in materials so germs won’t stay on the surface,” he said.
Aside from being a 'mobile living room', the car of the future could potentially become a moving medical centre. Developments in biometric technologies have the ability to constantly monitor drivers and passengers to ensure they’re kept in good health.
Holst Centre, which develops flexible electronics, is using Automotive Interiors Expo to highlight how lighting and interaction based on touch and haptic feedback could offer the chance for a medical check-up while on the move.
“You can use biometrics in multiple ways – we have fingerprint sensors and heart rate and breathing rate detection that can serve to monitor stress level or the needs of a passenger, such as whether they need to go to sleep,” said Margreet de Kok, senior scientist at Holst Centre.
“If you think about it, the car is a special tool we have as human beings, because we spend quite a lot of time there. There are ideas to measure heart activities throughout the years you have your car, so your vehicle actually becomes your medical check-up.
“If there is a change in your heart rhythm, it could offer a warning to visit a doctor. However, you will need high-resolution data for that so the biometric sensors will need to be of high quality. In a car, people are seated so it’s a nice environment to do measurements, so why not use that time in the car to provide more.”
Holst Centre’s senior scientist also explained how the autonomous interior will have to change as drivers no longer control the car: “There’s opportunity for entertainment and study, so the need for the interior will completely change," claimed de Kok. "We think ambience and atmosphere creation will be completely different, so lighting will be an important aspect – as will the controls in the car, with seamlessly integrated technology and intuitive responses to the driver via audio.”
Materials innovation was another strong theme during the second day of the show, with Albis Plastic revealing its ability to recycle carbon fibre into new vehicle parts.
The company, which specialises in the distribution and compounding of technical thermoplastics and thermoplastic polymers, discussed its work following Albis’ acquisition of Wipag at the end of last year.
Thomas Marquardt, Albis' managing director, explained how the company buys old bumpers and end-of-life bumpers in pressed bales and then applies a technology to de-paint, shred and clean them so at the end of the line there’s virgin material again. Its latest breakthrough involves carbon fibre.
“We get cut-offs from other carbon fibre users such as BMW’s production of the i3 or i8. This is waste and normally companies would have to pay to get rid of it, but with our new technology we take this waste, feed it into an extrusion line to make new components with properties similar to virgin carbon fibres – but cheaper,” Marquardt explained.
He says there are many opportunities around the car to use the new material but on show was a hinge for a fuel filler door, which, when compared to the same part made from traditional materials, was stiffer and lighter. Marquardt claimed it offered a 30% weight reduction, all for the same cost as typical methods.
With IC vehicles continually looking to reduce CO2, Marquardt says the company’s lighter products are ideal, especially with the change from NEDC to WLTP in Europe.
Nanotechnology was another key topic on the floor at Automotive Interiors Expo 2018. Showcasing its results on recent R&D projects was CeNTI, a private, non-profit research institute in the field of nanotechnology .
The organisation is displaying technologies that enable the integration of electronics into normal textiles, surfaces or injection-molded thermoplastic components.
“CeNTI is fully dedicated to integrating nanotechnologies into engineering processes and developments in advanced materials since 2006,” said chief operating officer João Gomes. “For Automotive Interiors Expo, we’re showing off our work in the automotive sector but we also work in the construction sector and in textiles for sports and well-being,” he continued.
“We have some novel fibres that integrate connectivity or operate as a sensor, or they can have higher breathability so they have optimal thermal management for the automotive interior surface.”
The Portuguese institute has already developed components for the likes of Daimler, Porsche, BMW and the PSA Group.
Finally, with a very strong nod to the wonder of nature, Foss Performance Materials revealed the launch of its latest sound dampening solution, which it claims was inspired by the near soundless flight of owls.
The result is its patent-pending WhisperTex – a lightweight, cost-effective non-woven material designed to dampen noise and improve acoustics in a wide range of automobile applications.
“The owl makes no sound when it flies,” explained Paul Medeiros, R&D manager, Foss Performance Materials. “That happens because there’s an abundance of very fine down feathers all over its body, which are quite dense. The feathers also have very unique serrated edges on the owl’s wings – these break down the sound. We took those attributes to engineer a new, non-woven component, WhisperTex. It has finer fibres than typical materials and therefore has more fibres per square unit. This means it has greater density, which is essential to its dampening qualities.”
The material has been designed for a number of applications, from carpets and the underbody to fenders, and despite the lower weight, no performance is compromised.
“WhisperTex has a unique cross-section that was engineered by studying the owl’s wings. It isn’t a round cross-section, it’s a multi-complex section that breaks down the sound waves as it goes through the carpet. Most of the sound waves in automobiles are occurring from 125 to 8,000, which is ideally where WhisperTex performs,” continued Medeiros.
“A lot of other materials might have ultrafine fibres and surface area, but they don’t have the density, so they lack the same sound transmission properties.”
All the polyester fibres used in WhisperTex are from post-consumer recycled plastic bottles and the material can be fully recycled itself.
The third and final day of Automotive Interiors Expo Europe 2018 will open on Thursday, 7 June at 10:00hrs (CET) and close at 15:00hrs (CET)