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The quickly-approaching self-driving car revolution is going to usher in all sorts of changes to automobile design, roadway infrastructure, and our daily lives that we can’t possibly imagine yet. The technology is still very much in its infancy, meaning it will likely undergo many changes over the next few decades as it is refined and made standard. Aside from putting millions of drivers and support personnel out of work for good, the advent of self-driving vehicles has the potential to completely change how we conceive of transportation and urban design. Among the more surprising changes to come about will be changes in how cars are painted. Judging from the showings at this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the future of automobile finish will be bright, vivid colors. Can we say goodbye to black cars altogether?
Nearly every one of the self-driving vehicles displayed in Detroit this year were white or another similar light color. That’s because the light detection and ranging systems (LiDar) which help self-driving vehicles ‘see’ can detect light-colored vehicles much more easily than they can dark ones. What does that mean for production vehicles? For one, dark colored vehicles might soon become a rarity, a relic from the ancient ages when people had to drive their own vehicles like some sort of cavepeople.
Nancy Lockhart, a global color marketing manager for automotive paint supplier Axalta Coating Systems, says that while lighter colors are better for autonomous vehicle sensors, the market will to some degree still dictate how manufacturers paint their vehicles. “When we test colors … we know that highly reflective colors are more easily detectable by LiDAR systems,” Lockhart says. Still, she acknowledges that “color sells” and consumers ultimately want what they want. “I don’t think we’re going to come into this world blanketed by plain-Jane colors,” she adds.
Will self-driving technology be the end of dark-colored vehicles? Perhaps. Without a doubt, though, there will be many more pieces of car culture which vanish once we let computers take the wheel. Fuzzy dice are certainly on the chopping block. Where are you going to hang them once cars no longer need rear view mirrors?