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Talking Tires

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12/02/2020
 

Trucks drive autonomously, cars talk to street lamps, assistance systems make driving safer and tires? They're getting more and more digital. Karim Fraiss, Head of Marketing & Operations Digital Solutions Commercial Vehicle Tires at Continental, explains on VisionZeroWorld how he's teaching tires to talk.


Mr. Fraiss, the car industry is going digital even truck tires are networked now. What is a digital tire, actually? How can our readers imagine one?

You could say it like this: We are teaching tires to talk. The tire becomes intelligent and learns to communicate. It should be able to provide the on-board system, the driver, or the fleet manager with information on its condition. In the over 100 years of its history so far, the tire has actually been analog and offline. There has traditionally been little interest on the part of users in this very important component on the vehicle. Not everyone really takes a tread depth gauge to hand, and the air pressure is not always optimally controlled. So it's better for the tire to make itself felt, communicating all relevant data on its own condition. This is a decisive factor in more safety on the road. After all, the tire is what makes contact with the road, allowing other driver assistance systems to do their work. That's why we equip tires with sensors that provide information about air pressure and temperature – and many other parameters are on the way.

Karim Fraiss is Head of Marketing & Operations Digital Solutions Commercial Vehicle Tires at Continental. He's teaching tires to talk. Photo: Continental

 

How does the networking of tires lead to more safety?

If tires have too little inflation pressure, that can be a real problem. A very low inflation pressure damages the carcass and in the worst case can cause the tire to lose its tread. A tire loss of this nature can be dangerous for the truck driver and for the traffic behind. 

That's 15 kilograms of rubber lying on the road, which can put a motorcyclist into a very dangerous situation. It also disrupts the transport company's time and route planning and costs money – not only because changing tires on site is unavoidable, but also because a contractual penalty may be due if the delivery deadline is not met. What's more, a tire that is underinflated will not be able to perform as well as it could, for example in terms of directional stability or handling. You can't do without tires – no truck would be moving then at all.

 

People talk about tires whispering on the road. How are you teaching them to talk now?

We started with continuous measurement of inflation pressure. The inflation pressure is a very important factor, which on the one hand has a great influence on safety and impending tire failures. On the other hand, we help fleet managers increase their efficiency by making optimum use of vehicles and materials. We offer the ContiPressureCheck system, for example. Here, the sensors in the tire send their data by radio to a central receiver, a control unit, which then sends a warning to the cockpit if the inflation pressure is too low. ContiConnect even makes this information available to the fleet manager so the appropriate maintenance windows can be scheduled from the office.

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“ContiConnect ™ enables fleet managers to access the tire pressure and temperature data of the entire fleet via a web portal.

 

So inflation pressure is a "talking point" for tires. What else is there?

Another topic we are working on today is tread depth. This can also be detected with appropriate sensor technology. This would help drivers and fleet operators to really only drive with tires that are one hundred percent safe. It would also make it possible to automate manual checks for the fleet and to plan tire requirements better. Of course, you can also think ahead and say: Maybe the tire could be more than just equipped with sensors. What if the tire itself is the sensor? What if we provide it with more intelligence? Then it could, for example, collect information about road conditions and feed it into the smart on-board system. Or let's take the subject of retreading. A truck tire is often retreaded several times. It's worn out, then goes for retreading and gets a new profile. But you can't do that forever, because many of the internal components in the tire reach their limits at some point. So how practical would it be if the tire could give a status of its condition before retreading, so we can know whether the intervention is still worthwhile in the first place? That's where we want to go: That we know everything about the condition of the tire – because it talks to us.

 

Truck and bus drivers are increasingly supported by electronic assistance systems. This is also reflected in the accident statistics: Although the share of freight transport and long-distance bus transport on the roads is increasing, the number of serious accidents involving commercial vehicles is falling. What role does tire development play in this?

It is true in principle that assistance systems are also becoming increasingly relevant in the commercial vehicle sector. Especially if you think about automated driving. There are already some successful areas of application for semi-autonomous vehicles. In the future, it could also be that no driver will be needed in the cockpit at all, and the vehicle would be controlled by assistance systems alone. Since the tire is the only component that actually exerts force on the road, it naturally plays an important role in this development. In other words, the demands on tires are also increasing. With a view to future automotive trends, it is essential for the tire to become smart in order to contribute its important and often underestimated contribution to the intelligent overall structure of the vehicle.

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"The tire pressure monitoring system ContiPressureCheck ™ shows the real-time values of tire pressure and temperature and warns of deviations."

 

How will this change tires?

My vision is that every commercial vehicle is always on the road with exactly the tire product that is tailor-made for its use. Truck tires are naturally available in many different variants for a wide variety of applications. Each axle has its own tires – the tires on the steering axle differ from those on the drive axle, which in turn has different tires from the axles of the trailer. A different tire is used for regional transport than for long-distance freight transport. However, commercial vehicles are often not equipped with the optimum tires for the application in question. This is because customers use their fleets for a wide variety of applications. Now imagine the fully networked vehicle. The tire is smart. It knows what surface it's driving on, whether asphalt, sand, or gravel, whether it's driving on a winding road or how aggressively the driver is driving – if there is even still a driver in the cockpit. As tire developers, we could get a lot of important information from all this data. We could develop even better, more detailed products tailored to the respective application.

 

So the digital tire would more or less optimize itself by revolutionizing tire development?

Absolutely. The development of a new generation of tires is already a very time-consuming process today, taking several years before we can test its performance in the field – first of all, a tire has to meet the highest safety standards before we can test it for other parameters. In the future, thanks to digitalization, we will have even more possibilities for testing: If every tire and every vehicle is online, then ultimately every tire is always being tested and constantly providing information to continuously improve the tire.

 

How will this change tires?

My vision is that every commercial vehicle is always on the road with exactly the tire product that is tailor-made for its use. Truck tires are naturally available in many different variants for a wide variety of applications. Each axle has its own tires – the tires on the steering axle differ from those on the drive axle, which in turn has different tires from the axles of the trailer. A different tire is used for regional transport than for long-distance freight transport. However, commercial vehicles are often not equipped with the optimum tires for the application in question. This is because customers use their fleets for a wide variety of applications. Now imagine the fully networked vehicle. The tire is smart. It knows what surface it's driving on, whether asphalt, sand, or gravel, whether it's driving on a winding road or how aggressively the driver is driving – if there is even still a driver in the cockpit. As tire developers, we could get a lot of important information from all this data. We could develop even better, more detailed products tailored to the respective application.

 

So the digital tire would more or less optimize itself by revolutionizing tire development?

Absolutely. The development of a new generation of tires is already a very time-consuming process today, taking several years before we can test its performance in the field – first of all, a tire has to meet the highest safety standards before we can test it for other parameters. In the future, thanks to digitalization, we will have even more possibilities for testing: If every tire and every vehicle is online, then ultimately every tire is always being tested and constantly providing information to continuously improve the tire.

The ContiLogger combines hardware, software and manpower to an individual consulting approach.

 

Real use would be a test bed for future generations?

Yes and no. We would naturally never put a beta version of a tire on the market. Each of our products has been tested and secured many times over. But the ability to collect data continuously throughout the product life cycle is a fantastic concept. It would streamline tire development. And the tires could be tuned even better and in more detail for every different application.

 

Vehicles will communicate more intensively with each other in the future and warn each other of dangers using smart vehicle-to-vehicle systems. Will the tires of different vehicles also get in touch with one other?

Well, in a simplified way, yes. But with the restriction that a tire will most likely not communicate directly with tires on another vehicle – although this would technically be theoretically possible. However, the tire is increasingly becoming an integral part of the smart communication infrastructure in the vehicle. If the tire could detect scenarios such as hydroplaning or black ice, then it could use the on-board system to feed that information into the vehicle-to-vehicle communication, contributing to the safety of the following traffic. This can also be relevant for completely different areas of application. Continental, for example, develops tires for special applications in heavy construction vehicles. These tires are exposed to extremely heavy loads. Think of a huge dump truck – the tires can be bigger than the driver. These tires get hot when the load is too great. So how practical would it be if the dump truck's tires could communicate with the excavator currently dumping the load onto it? The tires could then say in a figurative sense: "Hey, I'm on my way to you right now, but my tires are already very warm because you put too much on them earlier. On the next load, bump it down a shovelfull." There are some really interesting models there. There are already applications, for example, where the engine control unit operates on the basis of tire data. If the tire radios about problems with inflation pressure or temperature, the engine power is automatically throttled. The driver is forced to drive back to base at walking pace so the problem can be solved.

 

Car-to-X communication is another keyword: The car communicates with the infrastructure, with intelligent traffic lights or street lamps. Continental has already developed corresponding solutions, such as the fully networked smart intersection. Will tires talk to streetlights soon? And what will they have to talk about?

The tire is integrated into the overall system of the vehicle, which in turn communicates with the intersection or street light. So it would be more of an indirect dialog. However, it can also happen that the tire makes direct contact with the infrastructure. What would they have to talk about? If there were black ice in the intersection, for example, the tire sensors could contact the traffic lights via the on-board computer and influence traffic control.