Brad Leach | Feb 13, 2017

The age of autonomous motoring is on its way but, according to Fiat Chrysler design chief Ralph Gilles, automakers and outside industries will need to collaborate to a degree hitherto unheard of to achieve the desired outcomes.

Speaking before kick-off of the Chicago Auto Show last week, Mr Gilles pointed-out that full autonomous operation doesn’t end with vehicles.

“Everybody’s out there trying to do it alone... but I think it’s going to require unforeseen collaboration,” he said. “How can competitive industries join together... to get things done?”

Mr Gilles is advocating not only collaboration on vehicle development but also the supporting infrastructure.

And while autonomous operation is a definite plus for road safety, he confessed developmental and some current model vehicles with roof-mounted autonomous systems had little appeal to customers. Showing images of some systems he said: “As a designer, I’m mortified by this stuff, but these are vehicles that are being adapted, 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.”

Mr Gilles admitted cost can also be an issue. “Cars are getting more expensive because there’s so much tech, so ownership is getting more challenging,” he revealed. “The tech is not cheap and it’s not free.”

However Mr Gilles said the market is driving new trends and items like radar and ultra-definition cameras as well as on-board ultrasonic sensors will be fitted to entry-level vehicles soon – all in the name of safety.

“Science fiction isn’t fiction anymore. It’s happening,” Mr Gilles said, pointing to Hollywood’s first autonomous car – KITT from Knight Rider which actually dates back to 1982.

According to Mr Gilles, the era of electric motoring has freed designers to a degree – smaller sized electric motors and drivelines allow the wheels to be pushed to the very corners of some vehicles – but full autonomous motoring will require collaboration from vehicle makers as well as infrastructure providers.

MORE: Fiat Chrysler | Autonomous | Design

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