The safety of all road users is the most important prerequisite for the introduction of autonomous driving. To achieve this, cars must “learn” to recognize obstacles and dangers in good time and react appropriately. This is only possible through the use of sophisticated sensor technologies. Automotive supplier Webasto recently unveiled a prototype of an aesthetic and fully integrated sensor roof module for autonomous driving. For its production, Webasto uses the transparent polycarbonate Makrolon® AG and the black PC-ABS Bayblend® T95 MF from Covestro: The first mentioned product was developed for use in glass-like exterior components and is highly permeable to various sensor signals. At the same time, it meets high mechanical requirements. In addition, it offers the necessary design freedom for embedding all relevant electronic components while at the same time providing an attractive exterior design for the component.
It is not without reason that the 14 sensors and cameras are located in the roof module: At the highest point of the car, they are ideally positioned to provide a complete overview of the surroundings. The lightweight plastics also ensure a low center of gravity for the vehicle and thus better road holding. However, while technology developments for autonomous driving are making progress, previous solutions for positioning the sensors are often not yet visually satisfactory. Webasto has now presented a new concept that also meets demands for aesthetic vehicle architecture.
“We are proud to work with Webasto and other partners to develop innovative solutions for autonomous driving,” says Dr. Fabian Grote, Head of Global Technical Marketing Mobility in Covestro’s Engineering Plastics segment. “The complete sensor technology is hidden under a seamless roof module made of Makrolon® AG. Our plastic is lightweight, durable, robust and transparent, and offers an ideal solution for integrating sensors into vehicles. We are pleased to be contributing to more sustainable mobility.”
The sensors and cameras measure the distance and speed of objects in front of and alongside the vehicle and also reliably detect traffic lights, traffic signs and road markings. To function optimally, they must not get too warm. This is ensured by a thermal management system from Webasto. Here, the high heat resistance of polycarbonate ensures that the roof module retains its shape even at high outside temperatures and in strong sunlight and does not impair the function of the sensors. Cleaning and de-icing systems, on the other hand, ensure flawless operation in winter.
Cooperations with leading automakers
Covestro is also a leading supplier of material solutions for autonomous driving and is working with various partners on the use of special polycarbonate grades for the cover panels of LiDAR sensors. At the International Symposium for Automotive Lighting (ISAL) in Darmstadt, Germany, Sept. 25-27, 2023, the company will showcase a roof module equipped with LiDAR sensors from Chinese automaker Human Horizons.
Human Horizons is equipping its new HiPhi Z model with LiDAR sensors protected by a housing made of PC-PET Makroblend® UT235 M. The optical signals from these sensors pass through a cover glass made of the special polycarbonate Makrolon® AX ST, which ensures maximum efficiency.
A total of a dozen cameras and several LiDAR and RADAR sensors are installed in the Chinese luxury model. As a result, it achieves driving assistance level 3 of autonomous driving.