PPG & MCity Developing Special Coatings for Autonomous Vehicles

Because there are so many more components to an autonomous vehicle, there are, accordingly, a lot more things that need to be tested.

Most self-driving cars use a combination of Lidar-, radar- and camera-based sensors that each need to be tested individually and as a collective group. It isn’t enough to see how they perform in idealized conditions. These tests need to take place in a variety of weather and lighting conditions, because sensors can behave differently in inclement weather like snow and at nighttime.

In addition to improving the sensors themselves, there are also efforts underway to develop the objects that they are sensing. Automotive paint company PPG recently announced that it had partnered with MCity, the public-private autonomous vehicle test facility at the University of Michigan, to develop and test paints and coatings designed specifically for autonomous vehicles.

“Specialized coatings will play an integral role in the development of safe and reliable driverless vehicles,” Gary Danowski, PPG vice president of automotive OEM coatings, wrote in a statement. “We are enthusiastic about this partnership and are always actively seeking additional R&D partners as we continue to explore new possibilities in emerging vehicle technologies.”

One of the projects that PPG will work on at MCity is the creation of a specialized car paint that can be detected more easily by autonomous car sensors.

Glare from the sun that bounces off traditional car paints can confuse a driverless car’s systems. This may have played a role in the 2016 crash involving a driver using Tesla’s Autopilot feature, which is the first-known fatal accident involving semiautonomous driving technology.

Another potential project involves the sensors themselves. PPG suggested it will try to develop easy-to-clean coatings that would protect an autonomous vehicle’s sensor hardware. As anyone who has ever waited too long to wash their car can attest, automobiles get dirty fast. Lidar sensors are no exception, but specialized coatings could mitigate the effect dirt or debris would have on their performance.

Opened in 2015, MCity is the “world’s first purpose-build facility” for testing driverless and connected cars, and their accompanying technologies.

It’s home to a wide variety of AV projects, including an on-campus driverless shuttle for the University of Michigan’s engineering students and faculty that was designed by the French company Navya.

“Autonomous vehicle technology offers numerous real-world advantages, and the ability to test such technologies safely and thoroughly is essential for proving the viability of advanced mobility solutions,” MCity director Huei Peng noted in the statement. “Our state-of-the-art facility offers a controlled environment for manufacturers like PPG to develop and hone the capabilities of autonomous vehicles and related technologies, while also providing them access to a variety of valuable tools and resources. We’re excited to have PPG be part of this journey.”

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