Self-driving cars are coming. Chemical makers are racing to keep up

High-tech computers and batteries get the attention, but the chemical industry is quietly bringing solutions to many of the less-obvious problems of autonomous driving. The demands of computer vision require a lot of chemistry support. A design shift in car interiors that emphasizes usable space will create a need for structural materials that are strong, lightweight, and attractive to the eye and touch. And the electric motors that are expected to move most self-driving cars need different fluids than internal combustion engines.

It’s a boom time for R&D. Most major carmakers are working on CASE vehicles, and new firms like Nuro that lack anchors in internal combustion are offering serious competition. For the most part, each one is working in isolation, developing its own systems with their own challenges. That dynamic means companies’ suppliers, including specialty chemical firms, need to customize offerings for each client.