Some say it’s crazy to think about self-driving cars becoming commonplace. But elements of automotive autonomy are fast being applied to nearly all new cars. And how the tires interact with the future driverless car is critical. It’s all about connections…
Even with electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles, tires represent the four contact points with the road, and future mobility demands that tires be able to offer digital connectivity to vehicles. Yes, it’s all about connections.
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The connectivity we refer to is the manner in which future tires will need to communicate with the car, maybe with a fleet manager and even with cities. This relates to smart tires, which have a sensor to transmit information about the tire’s condition and its interaction with the road surface.
This interaction is especially vital when it comes to autonomous vehicles. Some will ask: “What happens when you remove the driver and the road is icy, for example?” The smart tire takes on the role of the driver, translating the road to the vehicle.
Or in everyday driving, what if worn tires or those with incorrect pressure have a negative effect on overall driving safety or even simple efficiency? Again, with no driver behind the wheel to feel the decreased performance in his hands, the smart tire can transmit the necessary data to help the autonomous vehicle compensate, or give the data to a fleet manager to make a decision before downtime affects the vehicle.
The connectivity also will allow the smart tires to “learn” the road, evaluating surface and conditions at any given moment, broadcasting that information to GPS systems or municipalities. Integrated and connected tires could detect potholes, icy roads, or other potential road hazards. That data could be delivered in real-time – even without a driver – to allow action to be taken.
Experts say about 15% of vehicles sold by the end of this decade will be fully autonomous, and most of the top automakers have announced plans for highly autonomous technology to be ready for the road within the next five years.
While vehicle autonomy is scary for many people — drivers, pedestrians, and yes, aftermarket shop owners– it certainly is on its way. Already, we’ve witnessed the application of many versions of semi-autonomous technologies. Adaptive cruise control, automatic parking assist, lane departure correction, automatic braking assist and more.
All of us probably believe we’re really safe drivers. The intent with autonomous vehicles is not necessarily to allow each of us to sit back and read a book or have a drink while the car is driving for us. No, the intent with AVs is to deliver what should end up being the most consistent and safest driver. Knowing that human drivers take chances and make mistakes, the belief is that fully developed autonomous technology creates “perfect drivers.” It’s a technology that will deliver a critical piece of intelligent transportation and future smarter mobility.
Yes, the tipping point for AVs is coming, and tire companies see this as a big opportunity to bring intelligence to tires, as described earlier.
Just as automobiles change, tires change and get better and smarter. Through new structures, materials or sensing capabilities, they will remain the four touch-points between the vehicle and the road surface. No matter if there is a driver behind the wheel or not. We will dig deeper into the role of smart tires in a future segment.