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Technology and social dynamics are rapidly changing our relationship with the passenger car. Smart display technology and ridesharing are just two factors currently disrupting this relationship, and the introduction of autonomous driving technology will likely turn this relationship entirely on its head.
In light of this ongoing change, carmakers and suppliers are taking steps to completely redesign automotive interiors. Covestro is a cutting-edge materials developer that is looking to drive change with its novel polycarbonate materials.
Covestro has envisioned a smart automotive interior that is a multi-purpose space for personal and professional activities that will become essential to daily life. Through its materials development, the company is working toward an area that offers conventional and new driving experiences that incorporate substantial autonomy.
Using state-of-the-art materials, the automotive interiors envisioned by Covestro include smart surfaces with optical and haptic interfaces, the incorporation of ambient lighting, and innovative seating concepts.
The Covestro concept is largely based on the company's proprietary polycarbonate materials and polyurethane materials. These materials provide design versatility and mechanical security while supplying electrical and thermal insulation where needed.
These exceptional qualities are essential for the incorporation of new displays, sensors, cameras, surfaces and lighting.
Polycarbonate Materials for Automotive Interiors
Many of Covestro's polycarbonate materials permit new lighting effects, with a particular focus on emerging lighting technologies such as lighting that incorporates laser-engraved microelectronics.
The company focuses on innovation at the production level and streamlines steps by merging two independent surfaces, structural components and aspects related to lighting.
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As digital technology, connectivity and automation increasingly become a part of everyday life, smart automotive interiors will incorporate more interactive surfaces and displays.
According to Covestro, polycarbonate materials are essential to the incorporation of these new features as they will facilitate the creation of smooth, attractive services that convey a high level of quality.
Polycarbonate materials will also act as a significant platform for printed electronics that may be used to control various functions.
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Polyurethane is a highly adaptable material common in automotive interiors and frequently found in seating materials, instrument panels and trim components.
Thermoplastic polyurethanes are found in surfaces with many different qualities, such as varying levels of hardness.
For next-generation interiors, polyurethane coatings are used to make variable quality-surfaces. The concept from Covestro employs sturdy and scuff-resistant layers throughout the automotive interior, including in the seatback and flooring. The goal is to produce an inviting atmosphere.
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One key feature of the Covestro concept is a "privacy dome" incorporated into the ceiling design that is made from noise-canceling polyurethane foam.
Intended to enhance passenger comfort and interior acoustics, the dome mutes sounds from other riders and the outside world.
Responsible Production of Textile Coatings
Covestro has also developed a vegan, water-based technology for producing a textile coating that is aesthetically identical to leather, but at a reduced cost and with lower solvent waste.
The polyurethane coating permits a kind of translucence that creates a novel type of interior ambiance.
Made without solvents, Covestro's INSQIN technology features a lower VOC impact than leather production, as well as lower carbon emissions than conventional wet-processed materials.
The INSQIN process allows for a 95% decrease in water use and a 50% reduction in energy consumption compared to non-waterborne polyurethane production methods.
Automotive Interiors of the Future
With the increased prevalence of ridesharing, there will be a larger focus on providing a positive riding experience for passengers. For instance, rider preferences for the location and recline of a seat could become part of a user's profile, enabling a passenger's seat to automatically adjust before the rider enters the rideshare vehicle.
Automation is also expected to change the functionality of car interiors. As soon as the driver hands over control of the vehicle, for example, they may want more legroom. Rather than trying to move a seat's position by 10 inches, the driver may want to rotate the seat 180 degrees and move it 30 inches toward the interior of the vehicle.
As vehicle interiors become more of a place for social interaction, carmakers can respond by installing power seating systems that rapidly reconfigure based on user inputs. These kinds of systems will render the current standard rate of movement unacceptable. Interior seats of the near future will be expected to travel faster and farther.
Rapid seat movement also offers another key advantage: increased cleanability. Given the increased concerns around sanitation and the need to travel in shared spaces, these spaces will have to meet high sanitation standards.
Fast and far seat movement will facilitate interior cleaning with less downtime, which is particularly important for rideshare vehicles. Rapid access to all contact surfaces can be a powerful feature in the fight against a future global pandemic.
References and Further Reading
Covestro (2020) The automotive interior of the future: from display to vegan seat covers. [Online] Available at: https://www.covestro.com/press/the-automotive-interior-of-the-future-from-display-to-vegan-seat-covers/
Covestro (2019) Reinventing mobility with the car interior of the future. [Online] Available at: https://solutions.covestro.com/en/highlights/articles/stories/2019/automotive-interior
Lynn, A. (2019) How will automotive interior designers meet future demands? [Online] Electronic Specifier. Available at: https://www.electronicspecifier.com/news/analysis/how-will-automotive-interior-designers-meet-future-demands