Ford Cabins Applying Hi-Tech in Familiar Materials

Smart cabin materials will make consumers’ lives better but only if the interior surfaces look as familiar as their favorite household furniture.

That’s the opinion of Sonja Verdenberk chief designer of color and materials at Ford of Europe speaking exclusively to TU-Automotive at the 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA). She was responding to questions on the challenges designers of vehicles face incorporating advanced technologies including biometrics to monitor the driver’s wellbeing.

Verdenberk said: “It is a positive challenge and translating that into mass production is, probably, going to be the biggest challenge. We have started looking at this in our research methods, trying to interact with customers where we use that emotional translation from customers to understand how they use a car interior and how they interact with it. These include monitoring eye movements and body temperature to understand customers better.”

However, familiarity with the look and feel of a vehicle’s interior is paramount in building an emotional bond between the consumer and the vehicle and, in consequence, the brand said Verdenberk. She added: “When we say we are focusing on customer-centric design, that doesn’t mean that we just talk about it, it means we also really understand it. Its about how do we bring this technology into the car to improve people’s lives while making it familiar?

“It’s a little bit like interior architecture because houses and cars are not going to look different because of this new technology. It’s all going to be hidden under the surface so how do you make that surface so it still has the first-time impression that there’s a seat you can comfortably sit on while it has a secondary function monitoring role to provide the wellness factor? It’s in an early stage.”

Verdenberk also said that current technologies still have a long way to go in engaging the consumer, pointing to the use of ambient lighting in car cabins. She explained: “We are in the in-between area with the technology because we know ambient lighting has become established in cars over the last 10-15 years and, at first, this was purely functional so you could see where your feet were. Then it has taken on the different role of becoming decorative and, now, it is being used as a mood-setter with the option of 10 different colors because the color you have chosen enhances your mood.”

She also believes the consumer would be open to innovations that included smart cabins that can monitor the driver’s moods. Verdenberk concluded: “A lot of technologies around this area are already there but they will progress so that the interior become more intelligent so that you don’t have to decide ‘What mood am I in?’ The car will pick up your feelings are start responding to them. That next step will probably be quite smooth for customers to understand.”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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