At its test site in Uvalde, Texas, Continental has commissioned the company’s first driverless tire test vehicle for a wide range of road surface types.
The company said its goal is to make the test results for Continental’s passenger and light truck tires more conclusive and minimize the impact of the test procedure on the results. The new test vehicle is based on Continental’s automated Cruising Chauffeur, which was developed for freeways.
The vehicle is controlled using a satellite-based navigation system and is equipped with a camera and radar sensors. The car will be able to react immediately to people, animals or other unexpected objects on the track, even without a driver.
“In critical situations, the tires’ level of technology is the deciding factor in whether a vehicle brakes in time,” said Nikolai Setzer, member of the Continental Executive Board and head of the tire division. “With tire tests which use an automated vehicle, we achieve highly conclusive test results and thereby ensure the premium quality of our tires.”
One of the challenging tasks in tire production is to carry out quality tests while tires are in use. Newly developed rubber compounds and tire models have to be tested under real-life conditions, showing how well they perform on gravel roads, for example. Driving the test vehicles places huge demands on the drivers, as even the smallest deviations on the test track can have a huge impact on the quality and comparability of the test results.
Since 2016, the team led by Thomas Sych, head of tire testing at Continental, has worked to automate and standardize tire tests to identify even the smallest differences in the tires. “The automated vehicle enables us to reproduce processes precisely, meaning that every tire in the test experiences exactly the same conditions. This way, we can be sure that the differences in the tests are actually caused by the tires and not by the test procedure,” Sych explains.
In addition to the significantly improved comparability of the results, the tire test using automated vehicles will also reduce the maintenance work required for the test tracks. Because the vehicle is sent on a route that varies by just a few centimeters each time, the test track is subjected to less wear and tear, thus requiring considerably less maintenance.
“Thanks to close collaboration with colleagues from many different areas of Continental, we have made a lot of progress with our prototype for the tire test. Our focus now is on further developing the necessary camera and radar systems for this special case of off-road routes, so that the vehicle can react appropriately when people, animals, or other vehicles unexpectedly appear on the route,” said Sych. “We know from our own research, such as the Continental Mobility Studies, that trust is extremely important for the mobility of the future. We are fully aware of this responsibility when developing these new technologies.”