The vehicle of the future: Part 1

June 1, 2019
As autonomous vehicle technology continues to develop, technicians must continue to undergo extensive training and align themselves with automakers.

This article is co-authored by Lisa Lofton.

This is the first part in a two-part series on autonomous vehicles (AVs) and the collision repair industry. See Part Two in an upcoming issue of ABRN to learn more about AVs, their challenges and what collision repair shops should think about to prepare for the future.

As automotive technology continues to evolve – despite naysayers – autonomous vehicles (AVs) and connected vehicles are on the horizon to become more mainstream, and the collision repair industry may already be feeling some of the impact.

Close to 60 million vehicles in the United States alone are equipped with Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) such as blind-spot detection, adaptive cruise control and crash-avoidance systems, according to a March 2019 Frost & Sullivan report. Big changes towards full autonomy are expected within the next few years, but technology, regulations, infrastructure, societal acceptance, as well as other factors, all need to align.

Automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEM) are now beginning to view themselves as mobility providers instead of just as vehicle manufacturers as autonomous vehicle (AV) technology continues to advance.

Many original equipment manufacturers (OEMS) have said they plan to sell self-driving vehicles between 2020 and 2025. Each automaker has its own amalgamated sensor suite – a combination of the three main groups of sensor systems: Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR), radar and camera systems – supplemented by other sensors such as ultrasonic and other source inputs for its AV designs. That means there is currently no industry standard.

Several technological hurdles also still must be cleared, including the ability to test a wide range of both software and hardware solutions in various operating environments. There are also myriad regulatory and infrastructure obstacles.

The most-advanced AVs (also referred to as self-driving or driverless vehicles) are expected to be completely electric, defined as Autonomous, Connected, Electrified and Shared (ACES). Other terms used in the industry to define AVs include Shared Autonomous Electric Vehicles (SAEV) and Connected Autonomous Shared Electric Vehicles (CASE).

Other important issues beyond technical considerations also have to be addressed – such as cybersecurity concerns, who will be liable if the vehicle crashes, how it will be insured, etc. – before completely self-driving vehicles will be available for sale in the United States to the general public.

Despite this, automakers, tech giants and specialty startups have invested at least $50 billion during the last few years to develop AV technology. To that end, automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are increasingly looking at themselves as mobility providers than simply as a vehicle manufacturer, causing manufacturers and suppliers to revamp their business models.

Requirements of an Autonomous Vehicles
  • Diverse and redundant sensors (LIDAR, radar, cameras, ultrasonic and laser) capable of operating in varied conditions (rain, snow, unpaved roads, tunnels, etc.)
  • Wireless networks: short-range systems for vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communications, and long-range systems to access to maps, software upgrades, road condition reports, and emergency messages
  • Navigation, including GPS systems and special maps
  • Secure servers, software and power supplies with high-reliability standards
  • Automated controls, such as steering, braking, signals, etc.
  • Additional testing, maintenance, and repair costs for critical components such as sensors and controls

There are already early adopters of AVs, and Toyota predicts that in 2020, 42 percent of U.S. vehicles will be equipped with some type of “cooperative automated driving” technology tied to 5G or Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) – an open-source protocol for wireless communication intended for highly secure, high-speed wireless communication between vehicles and infrastructure. Forecasts expect that number to increase 68 percent by 2030 with sales of more than $30 million.

The total number of ADAS-enabled and autonomous cars on the road is expected to increase from 9 percent of the total Vehicles in Operation (VIO) in 2017 to 82 percent in 2030. The number of light-duty vehicles – i.e. passenger cars and light trucks – in the United States in 2018 was 276.1 million and Hedges & Co. has been projected it to be 281.3 million this year. 

The increasing adoption of ADAS and AVs is attributable to a greater emphasis on both safety and green technology. Growing adoption of ADAS-enabled and autonomous cars may lead to more stable driving, resulting in less wear and tear.

An impact on collision repair

The potential effect AVs will have on the collision repair industry is recognized, but it’s also a trend that the industry says may be somewhat hard to predict. It’s a fact that the number of repairs will decrease. However, as cars are built with more and more sensors, the way vehicles are repaired will become more complex. The frequency of repairs may decline – particularly in AVs that are fully autonomous – because they will be “talking” to the infrastructure and will take immediate corrective action to avoid a collision. However, this is still in the distant future.

A Cheat Sheet to the Six Levels of Driver Assistance Technology Advancements

The road from the current vehicles with driver assistance functions – systems that support the driver with steering, acceleration and braking either separately or in combination but where the driver is ultimately in control and clearly responsible to fully autonomous vehicles – systems that can take full control of the driving task for parts of a journey under restricted conditions of in all conditions – is long and complex, with many technological and regulatory hurdles along the way. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has developed these levels to describe the various stages of vehicle automation.

  • Level 0: No Automation The driver performs all driving tasks. The vehicle has zero autonomy.
  • Level 1: Driver Assistance – The vehicle is controlled by the driver, but some driving assist features may be included in the vehicle’s design.
  • Level 2: Partial Automation – The vehicle has combined automated functions such as acceleration and steering, but the driver has to remain engaged with driving and monitor the environment at all time.
  • Level 3: Conditional Automation – A driver is a necessity but not required to monitor the environment. The driver needs to be ready to take control of the vehicle at all times with notice.
  • Level 4: High Automation – The vehicle is able to perform all driving functions under certain conditions. There may be an option for the driver to control the vehicle.
  • Level 5: Full Automation – The vehicle is capable of performing all driving functions under all conditions. There may be an option for the driver to control the vehicle.

With Level 5 vehicles, there won’t be a need for pedals or steering wheels because they will be fully autonomous. Although there are predictions that this level of automation could be possible further down the line – circa 2030-2035 – some experts and pundits say we will never truly reach a Level 5.

Sources: National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and LORD Corporation

The goal of vehicle repair is obviously always proper repair, but it is more important than ever with AVs to have it done right because they will be driving themselves. Maintenance trends are anticipated to evolve as these vehicles will require less but more advanced maintenance such as Over-the-Air (OTA) updates. Repairs not only need to be done to original equipment manufacturer (OEM) specifications but by well-educated certified technicians using correct materials. This focus on OEM-approved materials is imperative.

Using approved structural adhesives and following OEM repair procedures is already important in automotive repair, but it must continue to recognize the critical role its products play and ensure it stays continually connected to OEM teams.

Preparing for the future

The move toward fully autonomous vehicles means that human input in driving would become obsolete. The car interior is already a complex environment. AVs will ultimately change the way drivers and passengers use the interior of a car, particularly with a demand for an enhanced driving experience. Passenger comfort is a key decision influencer.

Close to 60 million vehicles in the United States alone are equipped with Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems (ADAS) such as blind-spot detection, adaptive cruise control and crash-avoidance systems.

With less focus on actively operating a vehicle, passenger comfort will become even more important including higher sensitivity to the acoustic environment, new aesthetic requirements and innovative materials developed for door trims, carpet, and displays. (See sidebar, “NVH and lightweighting in autonomous vehicles” for more information.)

AVs will also change how repair facilities write estimates. This is a major part of preparing for the inevitable changes to come. Determine whether you have technicians who are able to write estimates and understand role changes. Do you have someone in a role who is dedicated to looking up the correct OEM procedures and someone who functions in more of an IT type of role and conducting research on repairs? These are not typical autobody shop roles, but now these types of skills are needed.

NVH and lightweighting in autonomous vehicles

Noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) control are already an important part of the collision repair process but are expected to play an even larger role as AV development progresses.

Automakers already spend significant time focusing on NVH because it is one of the most important attributes to reflect the quality perception of a vehicle. As autonomous driving evolves, sensitivity to NVH will continue to increase as drivers become passengers and will no longer be focused on traffic and the external environment.   

New alloys and the combination of materials with new materials also increases the sensitivity of a vehicle body to the vibrational and acoustical responses.

Forecasts indicate that the need for lightweighting will affect the material mix strategy for developing vehicles. As a lightweighting strategy – which will also affect NVH – the material focus will shift to aluminum, magnesium and carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP). Composites and plastic body panels reinforced with metal door structures are expected to be present in vehicles, similar to the Dendrobium hypercar, for drastic weight savings.

To learn more about NVH, see “The Art and Craft of Seam Sealer, Foam Repairs” in the November 2018 issue of ABRN and “New Technologies in Sound Dampening” in the March 2019 issue of ABRN.

Repairs will become more and more complex and electronic-based than they are now – from pre-scan and post-scan to ensuring the estimate is complete, especially for any sensors in need of repair. Scan tools will be crucial to make sure the vehicle is functioning properly, especially because vehicle repairs will be heavily electronic based.

Technicians of these future vehicles will need to have training aligned with coming changes and have the right people in place to be competitive in the market. They will need to consult OEM procedures while knowing whether a sensor is able to be repaired or if it should be replaced instead. Data will become the new gold.

Nearly 70 percent of automotive service is being performed outside the dealer network so independent repairers and shops and multi-shop organizations (MSOs) must be just as diligent and vigilant about staying on top of the rapidly changing technology.

There are big changes to come and a lot of questions – but we don’t yet have all the answers. The technology currently available on vehicles is bringing us closer to self-driving vehicles, but there’s still a great deal of work to be done before fully automated vehicles are part of mainstream transportation.

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