According to recent reports, car manufacturers might end up favoring light-color paint finishes for the first generation(s) of self-driving vehicles, due to the fact that some sensors required for autonomous driving are more accurate when attempting to detect objects painted in lighter colors. That’s not to say that every future self-driving car in the world will have more reflective colors, as darker objects can still be detected by additional sensors, but lighter shades might translate into lower production costs and this is why car makers might favor them in the near future.
On the other hand, some paint companies are already testing and developing new technologies for the self-driving era in an attempt to provide darker tones that don’t hinder self-driving sensors such as LiDAR systems. According to recent reports, automotive paint supplier Axalta Coating Systems is currently experimenting with making dark-colored paints more reflective by adding flakes into the mix, all the while retaining the original tone. Colors are still an important aspect of most vehicle purchase decisions, which is another reason why companies will continue striving to offer a wide variety of choices to consumers even once the industry adopts driverless vehicles. PPG Industries is now also said to be experimenting with high-tech coatings used for airplane fuselages in order to determine their potential uses in the future automotive world.
Paint suppliers also need to consider how they can adapt their products in order to minimize the chances of dirt building up around the sensors powering self-driving vehicles. It’s unclear exactly how a different paint job would contribute to avoiding this phenomenon, but perhaps a hydrophobic treatment around key areas of the car would provide a solution. At the end of the day, and regardless of whether the first generation of self-driving vehicles will promote lighter colors, these are just some examples of what new challenges need to be overcome before self-driving vehicles will be ready for mass production and distribution. As to when this might happen, the industry as a whole aims for self-driving vehicles to roam the public roads within the next five years, with some companies such as General Motors and Uber planning to launch self-driving ride-hailing services by next year.