TREND Embedded: “Intelligent” rubber

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Tires are the most important link between a vehicle and the road. In the future they should therefore be able to sense things, make decisions, adjust to driving situations and become part of the Internet of Things.

In the past, drivers were advised to check their tire pressures every second time that they fill up. This would help to prevent accidents, save fuel and avoid unnecessary tire wear. Although these are good arguments, convenience usually prevailed. Around 2004, sensors that would carry out the time-consuming task were introduced mainly in a number of expensive vehicles. These tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) determined the tire pressure and temperature every few seconds and gave a warning in the event of a loss of pressure.

Indirect systems compare the rotational speeds of all wheels and thus identify a loss of pressure in one wheel. Alternatively, they interpret a deviation in the characteristic vibration between the tire plies and the rim as the start of a flat tire. The data for this are provided by ABS, ESP or traction control systems.

Direct systems rely on a tire pressure sensor with a battery and transmitter inside the valve, within the tire plies or outside in the tire tread. They measure the pressure and temperature of each individual tire permanently and send this information to the driver. The direct version is more expensive but it is more accurate. It detects both sudden and gradual pressure loss and also works if the vehicle is standing still.

“Smart tire” from Bebop can sense the road surface, tire profile, and detailed information about the all-important hand sized area where the rubber literally meets the road.

Tire pressure sensors by law

Since 2007, all new vehicles in the United States have had to be fitted with tire pressure sensors. In the EU, this has been the case for all vehicles registered since 1 November 2014. As with all state regulations which require additional technical “equipment”, the manufacturers in the relevant segment benefit. The analysts at Technavio expect the global market for tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of just under 15 percent until 2020. Global Industry Analysts expects a turnover of US$4 billion by 2020, while Marketsandmarkets is more optimistic, predicting a turnover of US$5.6 billion with tire pressure sensors by 2019.

Where there is a market there is development too. As a result, the original air monitors are increasingly evolving into multifunctional monitoring systems. In 2014, tire pressure sensors from Continental which indicate when the necessary tire pressure is reached when pumping up tires were introduced in a number of models. The 200 millionth rolled off the production line in July 2016.

Tire pressure sensors detect tire wear. (Image: Continental).
Tire pressure sensors also detect tire wear. (Image: Continental).

For this year, the Hanover-based company has announced tires that measure the tread depth using sensors directly integrated into the tread. If a tire shows dangerous levels of wear, the on-board electric system will “pester” the driver to change it and will inform their preferred tire dealer. Together with sensors for detecting vehicle load which in future will be installed under the tire tread, a whole range of additional applications will be possible. Later on, driver assistance systems and above all automated vehicles will make contact with the “rubber” to prevent a car with summer tires being used on snowy roads for example. The additional information from the wheel is important for driver assistance systems and in order to make autonomous driving safer and more comfortable in the future.

In light of this fact, a range of further data will be squeezed from the rubber in the future – for example the state of the road surface, the level of grip available, the likelihood of aquaplaning or the distribution of torque.

Cars need entirely new tires

Goodyear is already one or more steps ahead. In view of the developments in “autonomous” driving, the head developer predicts that tires will be completely redefined. At the Geneva Motor Show four years ago, the company showed where the journey could lead. The “Eagle 360” spherical tire produced using a 3D printing process connects magnetic levitation technology with the bodywork. This year, the further developed “Eagle 360 Urban” featuring a bionic outer skin and an adaptable tread was unveiled. Artificial intelligence will allow the spherical tire to sense things, make decisions, adapt to the driving situation and interact.

Via the outer skin with its network of sensors, the tire collects information regarding road conditions, the weather, traffic flow and the condition of the vehicle. By exchanging data with other vehicles, it will become part of traffic management systems. The tread can adjust to any weather and road surface. The bionic outer skin will even be able to repair damage to the tire. What is more, the intelligent spherical tires will be able to access the Internet of Things and will reduce the vehicle’s speed if the road is icy.

However, we will probably have to wait a long time for these tires. Goodyear has therefore brought out a “conventional” tire with a reduced range of features. Tailored to fleet use, the “IntelliGrip Urban” helps to optimize the vehicle’s speed, braking, handling and stability. Fleet operators can monitor their tires in real time and thus plan maintenance and repairs proactively. This lowers overall fleet operating costs and helps to reduce the amount of time that vehicles are out of action.



Tire pressure sensors (Image: Continental)

With the Filling Assistant, smartphones could help you to find the right tire pressure in the future. (Image: Continental).