Intelligent Materials: Evolving Car Design & Sustainability
The materials we build with determine the potential of what we can create. Just as wood and stone unlocked the possibility of primitive tools and plastics let us manufacture limitless shapes and geometries, the rise of intelligent and sustainable materials are fundamentally changing the way we design — and what we design.
As these materials become more widely adopted, the automotive experience will undergo a profound transformation, causing a sea change in user interaction and personalization.
MOLECULAR MATERIAL DECISION
The global textile industry is one of the greatest contributors to environmental waste, polluting air, water, and soil sources all over the world. Resources’ rising costs now extend well beyond their price tag.
New textile technologies are tackling this looming issue head-on, starting from a blueprint decided long before the first die is cast or thread is spun.
“It has become possible to design from the molecular level… every material decision can solve a different problem.”
It’s a known best practice to design from the “ground up” — making every initial and infinitesimal decision with the end product in mind. Now, it has become possible to design from the “atom up,” tailoring materials for specific uses from the molecular level.
“It sounds like science fiction, but it’s happening right now,” explains Rodrigo Caula, a material designer at Faraday Future.
“Imagine taking cotton from discarded garments and turning it into carbon fiber! This is now a possibility…we can break this recycled content down to a molecular level, and extrude entirely new bio-based fibers with special equipment…you can basically re-engineer the molecular properties of the source material during this process. You could technically design a fiber to be hydrophobic, fire retardant or biodegradable, for instance — it’s almost alchemy.”
Caula is one of the minds on our award-winning design team, researching and integrating new, advanced materials into the FF engineering pipeline. He works in a department known as CMF Design, which stands for “Colors, Materials, and Finishes.” These designers specialize in the sourcing and production of nearly every visible material and finish on our vehicles.
“This unprecedented degree of design control allows us to emulate the qualities of cost prohibitive materials — like the structural rigidity of carbon fiber or the haptic perception of natural silk — at a molecular level, at a fraction of the price.”
By taking the waste byproduct created during manufacturing to give discarded materials a new life, the entire manufacturing process can reshape itself into a fully sustainable lifecycle from start-to-finish. Every worn out shirt or car seat can be infinitely transformed and revitalized.
A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE
“We’re also exploring sustainable materials and processes using advanced production methods. For instance, how smart textiles or structural components within the car are created, can be just as important as their capabilities — the type of manufacturing process involved, will reduce waste by an immeasurable degree.”
“Our vehicles can grow and evolve along with us on a daily basis.”
“It could be anything from extruded rock fibers to different types of bio-based plastics,” he continues. “Once a manufacturing system is in place, a specific process can bring our design concepts to life using our choice of sustainable materials.”
“Specific yarns or fibers are chosen to address a particular need. For example, if you were making a car seat, the areas where the driver’s body contacts the seat could be made of a durable, slip-resistant fabric. Meanwhile, the headrest could be soft to the touch and made with an antimicrobial, shape-memorizing material. Special fibers can be incorporated throughout to establish touch-sensitive surfaces, replacing the need for buttons or switches. All of this would be possible on a single, seamless, smart textile that is easily replaceable.”
“With all these new technologies we’re investigating,” Caula smiles, “every material decision can solve a different problem.”
Cradle-to-cradle manufacturing will also address long-standing ecological concerns. With this mentality, we can decide on which process to work with, only utilizing precise amounts of resources that are needed for any given project. Ideally, there’d be almost no residual waste from the fabrication of a new product, in contrast to the piles of scrap material leftover in traditional cut-and-sew methods or energy intensive production operations.
RESPONSIVE AND ACTIVE SURFACES
Responsive and active surfaces will soon allow for customizable vehicle configurations, adjustable in real-time. This type of innovation could let you determine bespoke material or finish options on the fly — like the dimming window feature available on the FF 91 — through something as effortless as an on-board computer app.
Providing drivers with that power would make one of our most personal investments — our vehicles — a closer extension of themselves. As they are now, cars are a reflection of ourselves at a single point in time: the moment we bought them. Now, with active materials like these, our vehicles can grow and evolve along with us on a daily basis.
“As designers, we have the responsibility to think about the full lifecycle of our final product,” Caula confides. “We’re making these incredible machines that are meant to be used for years; decades, even. When that finally comes to an end, we have to consider what happens to the car as a whole. We’re striving to be able to reuse and reintegrate as many parts as possible.”
“At Faraday Future, we’re trying to rethink what this lifecycle looks like — what it means to ‘own’ a car, and what it means to be a ‘car owner.’”
“Your FF experience isn’t decided when you get the keys to your vehicle,” Caula muses. “That’s just the moment when this relationship begins. This myriad of high-tech, high-potential materials we’re engineering can help ensure that this relationship is a long one — and a dynamic, exciting one, at that.”
QUESTION: If you could engineer any new material from the ground up, how would you redesign the inside of your vehicle or your favorite product?
Let us know in the comments. We’ll select a few of our favorite answers and send you a limited edition book diving into the design process of FF 91.