It’s almost impossible to visit an automotive news site without seeing an article about autonomous vehicles. Automakers and industry influencers have made it clear autonomy is the direction every OEM and technology company is racing toward.
According to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), autonomous vehicles are defined as cars operating in self-driving mode, without direct driver input or monitoring to control the steering, acceleration and breaking. Without physical drivers, these vehicles need another form of communication with their surroundings.
Technology and Occupant Protection
Enter sensors – the technology being used by connected vehicles to understand their environment, including other vehicles and infrastructure they must interact with.
The average cost of vehicles currently on the roads is up 57 percent from 20 years ago. Unfortunately, these added sensors are expected to raise vehicle costs even higher. All of this added precious cargo needs the same protection as the precious human cargo riding inside (see more about protecting occupants with steel in this blog post). With vehicle prices already high, and sensors making them even more costly, it’s imperative the technology and the passengers get the best protection for the greatest value. The solution? Steel!
To counteract the large investment in sensors and batteries, lightweighting with advanced high-strength steel (AHSS) provides the greatest value for the automaker, which in turn cuts costs for the consumer, without cutting strength and a sense of security. Steel has an impressively high value compared to alternative materials making it the easy choice when it comes to the best protection while offsetting the price of additional sensors and batteries for autonomous vehicles.
The transition to an autonomous world will not happen overnight and the risk of accidents and crashes will never disappear completely. Mother Nature is unpredictable and even in a fully autonomous world, we can’t forget about animals darting in front of autonomous vehicles that cannot stop in time or a storm sending branches and other debris flying onto these cars. With such a wide variety of AHSS grades, automakers will continue to choose the right grade for the right application to provide excellent occupant protection in any situation Mother Nature throws our way.
The average vehicle on the road today is made up of about 50 percent steel. Although it’s not clear just yet what these new autonomous vehicles will look like, it’s likely they’ll remain steel-intensive. Whether these fancy new rides look more like spaceships than vehicles or they stick to the classic designs we have today, the new generations of AHSS are formable without sacrificing strength. New generations of AHSS, including twinning-induced plasticity (TWIP), are extremely strong yet also formable allowing automakers to reduce mass for the difficult-to-form parts of futuristic vehicles. With more than 200 grades of steel available, there is sure to be a grade perfect for every application, now and in the future.
Along with the futuristic exterior of autonomous vehicles come new and improved interiors as well. It’s expected since we no longer need to rely on a human driver our vehicles will become more like our family rooms, a place to gather, get work done or take a nap. The seats may all face toward the center of the car, recline into beds or transform in a completely different way like the Mercedes-Benz F015 Autonomous Concept. These changes will affect the way we enter and exit the vehicle, eliminating the center pillar between the doors, resulting in the need for more structural steel for added strength in the surrounding areas.
The underpinnings, including the chassis and suspensions systems, of most vehicles are currently comprised of steel to provide an excellent, smooth ride and handling experience. Our existing road system is littered with pot holes, construction zones and other hazards, which will not be eliminated by the time autonomous vehicles hit the road and become main stream. Without a high-strength steel base and structure, these nice, new autonomous vehicles won’t be able to provide a smooth ride on our current roads.
The future of driving may not actually be driving. Steel is innovating to become the solution to challenges arising from autonomous driving. With steel, passengers can rest assured they’re safe from whatever new dangers come about and any design chosen by engineers can become reality. While autonomous driving comes at a cost, steel continues to provide the greatest value while offering the best protection for new technology and, of course, the vehicle occupants.
What do you want to see in autonomous vehicles? Let us know in the comments!