CHICAGO -- Fiat Chrysler’s global head of design says that true vehicle autonomy will not stop at the four corners of the vehicle, but will require technology developments in infrastructure as well.
And to get it done, automakers will have to work together and work collaboratively with outside industries as never before, says Ralph Gilles.
“Everybody’s out there trying to do it alone… but I think it’s going to require unforeseen collaboration,” Gilles said during a keynote speech before the start of the 2017 Chicago auto show. “How can competitive industries join together … to get things done?”
Gilles, who was raised in Montreal and who has been a designer with Chrysler since 1992, evoked past futuristic images from Hollywood and the current-day development of those technologies to show how technological hurdles can be eventually overcome. He cited as examples development of robotic limbs, like the one shown in The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, and what he called Hollywood’s first autonomous car, KITT, from the NBC show “Knight Rider” in 1982.
“Science fiction isn’t fiction anymore. It’s happening,” Gilles said.
From a design standpoint, Gilles said electrification has freed designers across the industry to rethink the fundamental elements of the automobile, with wheels positioned on the very corners of the vehicle.
But, he said, the technology-stuffed cars of today and those in the future are fundamentally changing the ownership model, as well as how those vehicles are designed.
“Cars are getting more expensive because there’s more tech, so ownership is getting more challenging,” Gilles said. “The tech is not cheap, and it’s not free.”
But, he said, safety technology -- once the exclusive purview of luxury vehicles -- is being democratized across all vehicles to increase safety.
“Entry level cars are going to have this stuff,” Gilles said, ticking off tech advances such as on-board ultrasonic sensors, radar and ultra-high-definition cameras.
For designers, the key is to make all of the new safety technology visually attractive or invisible. Gilles showed images of past and current roof-mounted autonomous driving systems. “As a designer, I’m mortified by this stuff, but these are vehicles that are being adaptive, not vehicles that were designed around these systems. In the future, we’ll be taking all of that technology to design it and fit it in a much more attractive package.”