What Does the Driverless Car Mean for Adhesives in Automobiles?

Posted on 4/13/2015 4:31:11 PM By Marc Benevento

There has been no shortage of promotional buzz on the efforts of automotive and technology companies to commercialize driverless cars.  Anyone still of the opinion that the convergence of electronics and the automobile is science fiction has not attended a recent Consumer Electronics Show, which looks more and more like a major auto show with each passing year.  CES 2015 included over 165,000 square feet of floor space dedicated to automobiles, with at least eight major OEMs participating.

Assisted driving features that help drivers avoid low speed collisions while parking or backing up are becoming commonplace in new luxury vehicles.  Adaptive cruise control systems on the market today will automatically brake to maintain a safe following distance or avoid collisions.  Established industry competitors and newer entrants, such as Tesla and Google, are aiming to eventually replace the need for human drivers altogether.

In order to understand what this means for adhesive applications, one must consider three likely outcomes of the convergence of automobiles and electronics.  These are:

  • Increase in the number of sensors in each car
  • Significant reduction in the number of collisions
  • Vehicle interiors shift from cockpit to infotainment

Increase in the number of sensors in each car:

Sensors are the eyes and ears of the computer.  As computers are being asked to take more of the responsibility for maneuvering the vehicle and informing the driver, the number of sensors in each vehicle is growing exponentially.   Likewise, adhesives used to assemble and affix sensors will grow along with these applications.  Although small in volume, sensor applications often have special requirements such as environmental compatibility, electrical properties, or optical clarity, and selection of the right adhesive is critical to performance in the field.  As sensors and their functions continue to evolve, this will create the need for new, specialized adhesives.

Reduction in the number of vehicle collisions

The use of computers to alert or respond for drivers will decrease accidents related to human error and distracted driving, which are the leading causes of collisions.  In addition, as more vehicles have self-parking features, minor damage related to “fender-benders” will be virtually eliminated.  This will result in a tremendous reduction in the number of accidents and reduce the need for adhesives that are used in automotive body repair.  However, until the possibility of collisions can be eliminated, vehicles will have to be designed to protect occupants in the event of a crash.  Therefore, the use of structural adhesives in the white body, which are frequently used to improve crashworthiness, should be expected to continue their upward trend.

Vehicle interiors shifting to infotainment centers: 

As less of the driver’s attention is required to steer the vehicle, the operator will be able to pursue other tasks or interests.  Interiors will be designed to enable occupants to engage in work or leisure activities, which suggests the addition of even more electronics in the interior.  The vehicle interior is climate controlled for only a small portion of the day, and is exposed to thousands of cycles of extreme temperature and other environmental conditions in its lifetime.  Adhesives that improve screen clarity, reduce glare, or help electronics survive the harsh automotive environment will be in demand as these worlds collide.

The future of automated driving will be at the confluence of technology, legislation, and consumer demand.  While there may be uncertainty surrounding the rate and degree to which automated driving becomes the norm, it is undeniable that change is not only coming, but is well on its way.

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