Img preview " Development of a new Bio-Composite from renewable resources with improved thermal and fire resistance for manufacturing a truck internal part with high quality surface finishing "


If you want a glimpse at future transportation, visit an art college

Detroit — To the fortune tellers with crystal balls, I ask this question: What will tomorrow's vehicles look like?

It is a question I keep hearing over and over from people like me who enjoy planning ahead and avoiding the chaos of the unknown whenever possible.

It is also a question automakers at January's North American International Auto Show tried to answer with concept vehicles — Volkswagen's electric crossover SUV concept, known as the I.D. Crozz, was decked out with autonomous tech, for example. But it was two presentations at the Plastics in Automotive conference that really got me thinking: When it comes to future mobility, are we looking for answers in the right places?

Take Steven Lee, 25, and Johnathan Gill, 27, two art students at the College for Creatives Studies (CCS) in Detroit, who presented their visions of future transportation during the Jan. 16 conference organized by Plastics News.

The students worked with the American Chemistry Council during a fall semester studio class, where they were asked to design a lightweight level 5 autonomous vehicle with plastic components for the city of Detroit in 2030. The finished vehicle designs from Lee and Gill offered a look at what the next-generation is forecasting for tomorrow's automotive industry.

My generation — ah, the influential and mysterious millennials — is the largest age cohort in the United States, surpassing Generation X and the baby boomers, according to U.S. Census Bureau population projections. Just as we have helped shape the evolution of the online world, especially social media — raise your hand if you remember the heydays of MySpace, LiveJournal and AOL Instant Messenger — we are also going to influence the evolution of the automobile.

And if these examples from Lee and Gill are to be taken seriously, future transportation will be multifunctional, yet imaginative, and durable, yet environmentally friendly. Well, maybe there will be some hands-free selfie technology on the interior, too, since millennials are (allegedly) massive narcissists.

"Millennials and younger generations that have grown up with technology will drastically influence what these future vehicles will look like and also how they function," Lee wrote in a Feb. 12 email.

"With fewer youths getting [driver's] licenses and a decreased average in interest in cars as a whole, how can the future accommodate those who still want to drive and those who wish to be autonomously transported to their destinations?" he asked. "That will be the task for the new generation of car designers."

Steven Lee "It gives artists a chance to get that all-important market exposure needed to make a living," Steven Lee said of his creative autonomous vehicle design. Giving artists a mobile medium

For the studio course, Lee, who is majoring in transportation design at CCS, created an autonomous car of the future that pays homage to Detroit's automotive history and its art culture.

The two-passenger vehicle is essentially a mobile art gallery. Screens on the exterior are constructed with plastic organic LED (pOLED) on polycarbonate and project multimedia art. The car can also convey marketing messages, such as information about an upcoming art exhibit or a sponsor's advertisement.

The body panels are made from ABS thermoplastic for dent-resistance and longevity, while a carbon fiber-reinforced polymer forms the structural support of the car frame. Thermoset plastic adhesives allow for reversible bonding and swappable body styles, so the "vehicle will change as the market changes and buyers' needs change," he explained.

"Without plastics, this car would not be possible," said Lee, who earned a bachelor's degree in biopharmaceutical sciences from the University of Ottawa.

"I think the auto industry needs to make dramatic changes and focus on solving actual problems and come up with solutions instead of just styling," he added. "[The] car industry is a relentless industry and only the most innovative and adaptive ones will thrive."

Johnathan Gill "The beauty about a modular system is its permanent adaptability," Johnathan Gill said of his modular autonomous vehicle concept. Environment remains a priority

Gill told me that when he thinks about future transportation, he's less concerned with the aesthetics.

"In this type of future — one with autonomous living rooms, shuttles and single-passenger eggs — the appearance is less important," he wrote in a Feb. 8 email. "We know populations are increasing way too quickly. The approach should be their capabilities, efficiency, purpose and, of course, environmental impacts."

"The looks of a vehicle," he added, "are nothing more than a way to influence people into an emotion that makes them desire it."

Gill's modular vehicle concept highlights two key aspects: efficiency and longevity. With interchangeable parts and systems, his autonomous vehicle can be whatever the riders need it to be.

"The beauty about a modular system is its permanent adaptability," Gill said during his Jan. 16 presentation. "One day, it can be a two-seater, long-bed pickup truck. The next, it can be a dump truck or, the next hour, a four-seater … a people-moving SUV."

The vehicle is a "true plug-and-play design," utilizing "strong, rigid and lightweight thermoplastics that increase design potential, keep weight down and minimize overall size," he said, adding that he used bioplastics where applicable.

"We could make a part and then through the next 100 years, continue to use that part through a whole array of uses to get the best environmental lack of impact possible," Gill said.

While Gill and Lee prepare for life after graduation — or "adulting," as some millennials like to call it — I'll be looking for that crystal ball at art colleges like CCS because, who knows, maybe one of those autonomous vehicle sketches hanging up in the hallway will look pretty dang close to the driverless vehicle picking me up for work in the future.

» Publication Date: 14/02/2018

» More Information

« Go to Technological Watch

This project has received funding from the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n° [605658].

AIMPLAS Instituto Tecnológico del Plástico
C/ Gustave Eiffel, 4 (València Parc Tecnològic) 46980 - PATERNA (Valencia) - SPAIN
(+34) 96 136 60 40