Magna’s FreeForm™ is an innovative seat trim cover technique that provides a clean, sculpted, seamless styling surface and the freedom to achieve endless design possibilities. FreeForm™ is just one part of the Seat of the Future. Also on the way is a Magna Central Seat ECU or electronic control unit that consolidates multiple seat ECUs and has capability for zonal control, along with intuitive auto adjust bolsters.
First seen in 2020 on the Cadillac XT5, FreeForm™ is launching with other automakers on a large SUV, a midsize CUV, a sedan and an all-electric SUV. The Central Seat ECU has not hit the market yet.
When we start a project, we look at everything from Leonardo da Vinci sketches to fashion, clothing, furniture, and consumer products. We may get inspiration from women’s cosmetic cases – finish, color and how the hinges work. We put those images on a board or in a PowerPoint to build momentum. We look at things outside of the industry, such as biomedical feedback. Our group has looked at how we can use the seat as a sensor to monitor the driver and prevent drowsiness.
FreeForm™, which is in production, allows the automotive designer to sculpt surfaces and coordinate exterior and interior design themes. EV technology means exteriors can be designed differently. The engine bay is freed up. You don’t need radiators or air intakes. Exteriors can be cleaner so can the interior. FreeForm™ enables a more holistic approach when it comes to automotive design.
Our Central Seat ECU is something we’ve worked on with our electronics group. Their data is part of our package parameters. Currently, seats have several electronic control units for different seat functions, multiple seat row functions, and other motors on the vehicle such as running boards and exterior mirrors. We bundle them into one ECU under the seat to reduce cost and complexity. It’s not yet in production.
Seats of the future may have electro-conductive textiles with metal wire in the fabric for cleaner, simpler design themes. This gives us the opportunity to design switches right into the soft trim. Instead of a block switch, it could be an embroidered symbol or tactile feature. We’re also working on auto-adjust features for seats that can read your morphology and adjust. The seat could tell if you are wearing a winter coat or heels and adjust. That level of intelligence takes a lot of work, but it will make the driving experience more intuitive.
And we’re always asking: What should seats be when they aren’t being used as seats?
Magna Core Values
Think big and never settle. Everyone in our group has a natural draw to that mindset. There is a curiosity and a drive to be out in front of everything, and a momentum to solve the challenges in the industry. Sustainability, recyclability, and social consciousness are priorities. There is a willingness to look at alternatives to petroleum-based products. We’re looking at plant-based materials, everything from soybeans to pineapple and apple skin by-products to create artificial leather. We’re also making seats out of recyclable materials, such as plastic bottles.
I like going to art exhibits, including the recent Van Gogh in America at the Detroit Institute of Arts. I’ve also been to Arles, France, where Van Gogh created some of his great works. There is a magic to what he does that’s inspirational. If you look at his paintings from an interior standpoint, everything blends together. Automotive interiors are a work of art, too. There are constraints, but that adds to the magic. You strive to create something beautiful and functional, do it on time and in budget. It’s great to see it all come together.
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