Made in PA

PPG: The Role of Coatings in Enabling the Future of Autonomy

Winter 2018 Catalyst

When you think of the future of mobility and autonomous vehicles, you may think of Silicon Valley, high-tech displays and technologically advanced operating systems. But, when you think of the future of mobility, do you think about Pittsburgh, or better yet, paint?


A car, autonomous or not, contains dozens of different coatings on the body, undercarriage, bumper, navigation screens and more, which help prevent scratching, reduce smudging and provide an aesthetically appealing look for the owner. With the automotive industry pivoting to develop the latest and greatest technology and deliver on the future of mobility, society’s use of automobiles will also be shifting. Paint and coatings will play a dominant role in this shift.


Thanks to the work of experts at Pittsburgh-based PPG, paint is changing the future of autonomous driving in ways that you might not know possible. Technologies that will positively impact the autonomous vehicle space globally begin at PPG’s coatings research and development headquarters in Allison Park, Pennsylvania.


How do paint and autonomy relate?


PPG has a long history of providing paints, coatings and specialty materials like silica and adhesives, which help automotive manufacturers protect and beautify vehicles, as well as coatings applied to bridges, roadways and public infrastructure. Mobility promises to not only change how PPG delivers its products to customers, but also how our customers, and ultimately their end users, will benefit from these products.


-           Durability and easy-clean coatings: When we think of how driving behaviors and durability requirements will change with autonomous driving, we can look at New York City taxi cabs that are driven almost continuously. These cars are constantly exposed to wear and tear of the constant flow of passengers – and it shows. With autonomous vehicles paving the way for a new type of public transportation, cars will no longer have sole owners. In the future, it is likely that an increased number of passengers will utilize an autonomous vehicle. Industry experts suspect that autonomy will enable cars to drive approximately 90 percent of the day, compared to the 5 percent that the average car is driven now. This means that coatings on the inside and outside of the car must withstand a significantly increased amount of use and be able to remain as clean and fingerprint free as possible for its users.


In addition, once the need for a traditional driver is eliminated, passengers in autonomous vehicles could utilize the cabin space for recreational activities, such as watching movies, eating, sleeping and more. This means that the cabin’s surfaces, seats, screens and buttons will be utilized more frequently, and will require highly durable coatings that withstand repeated wear and tear. PPG experts are developing coatings that help address the need for increased durability. These smudge-resistant coatings will also be utilized on tech screens inside of the vehicle to ensure each passenger has a pleasant experience.


In addition, maintaining the integrity of sensors on the car will be critical for safety and functionality. For example, an autonomous vehicle’s ability to function could be compromised if the car’s sensors become covered with snow, ice or mud. PPG is partnering with auto makers to apply easy-to-clean coating technologies that allow dirt and water to quickly and easily wash away, so there are no obstructions for sensors.


-           Light absorption and sensor detection: Aside from aesthetics, coatings will be a critical component in how cars interact with infrastructure and one another. An autonomous vehicle contains a variety of sensors that allow vehicles to communicate with each other, to see each other, and to detect obstacles and the path of roadways. In a test, a black car reflected back just six percent of the near infrared signal that a white car did, making it dramatically less “visible” on the road. PPG has designed coatings that have enhanced dark color vehicle detection, allowing the light to penetrate down toward a reflective under-layer. The signal “bounces off” this layer and returns to the sensor instead of getting absorbed. This coating leverages commercially-proven technology from PPG’s aerospace business that functions in the same light- and heat-reflective way, similar to how an eggplant retains its rich color while reflecting heat. PPG can utilize these paints not only for cars, but also for infrastructure, so that standing structures like bridges can be clearly identified and precisely measured by a car’s sensors.


While PPG already has one coating technology that lets its users better manage the reflectivity of specific wavelengths, within two years, PPG expects to market improved coatings that will absorb less infrared light and still provide excellent color and appearance. PPG is also developing coatings that enhance the radar reflectivity and transmission properties of plastic and composite substrates, such as bumpers.


Experts believe the world is on the cusp of another period of profound advancement in transportation, and PPG leaders are developing functional paints and coatings that enable some of these technologies. This shift, which will change transportation, industries and lifestyles, begins with the PPG paints and coatings technologies that are developed right here in Pennsylvania.


David Bem is chief technology officer and vice president of Science and Technology for PPG.

Founded in 1916, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry is the state's largest broad-based business association, with its membership comprising businesses of all sizes and across all industry sectors. The PA Chamber is The Statewide Voice of BusinessTM.