• Vehicle to Vehicle Communications
  • Advanced Driver Assistance Systems
  • EV
  • Vehicle Fleets

The Humble Tire Is Important to Future Mobility

Sam Abuelsamid
Oct 12, 2021

Guidehouse Insights

Until they get a flat, most drivers don’t pay nearly enough attention to the black rubber rings at the corners of their vehicle. Vehicles today have up to 100 or more computers embedded within them, generating gigabytes of data per minute. In the end, all of the smarts in the world don’t matter at all if little patches of rubber about the size of a human palm can’t keep a couple tons of metal connected to the road. 

On the surface, most people probably don’t think tires have changed much in the nearly 200 years since the invention of the pneumatic vulcanized rubber tire. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Engineers and chemists at tire manufacturing companies, such as Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, Bridgestone, and Michelin, have been working since Robert William Thomson got his 1845 patent to make tires safer, more durable, better-handling, and more efficient. 

Decades of Continuous Improvement

As Cadillac gets ready to launch its first electric car in early 2022, it has used test results from its new rolling road wind tunnel to demonstrate to its tire suppliers that they need to change the molding process to eliminate a sidewall ridge that was causing excessive aerodynamic drag. Since at least the 1990s, tire makers have been tweaking rubber compounds and internal construction to slash rolling resistance. Now, tires are getting smarter and providing the ability to inform drivers, whether human or robotic, about their condition and the road surface.

Recently, both Goodyear and Bridgestone have invested in automated driving companies through their venture capital arms and partnered with them to deploy smart tires. Bridgestone invested in Kodiak Robotics while Goodyear took stakes in Gatik, Starship Technologies, and TuSimple

Tires Talk Back

Human drivers use multiple senses to judge how a vehicle is behaving. This includes sensing tires slipping and how the vehicle responds to control inputs. Goodyear’s SightLine system installs new sensors on the inside of the tire that can detect pressure and acceleration in multiple axes. In addition, these sensors precisely monitoring tire pressure to warn of an impending failure before it happens. However, it’s also possible to measure tread wear and even the friction between the tire and road. The data is transmitted wirelessly into the vehicle and, in some cases, onto the cloud for processing and use by fleet management systems. 

This data is valuable to drivers (whether human or software) and to fleet managers. Goodyear has used this technology on its commercial vehicle tires for several years. It can be an important component of predictive maintenance, allowing vehicles to be scheduled for tire maintenance before a vehicle is stranded with a flat. This is especially important for automated vehicles, which is why Gatik has begun integrating SightLine into its trucks.

“We can integrate, we've done some work to show that we can help recover some of the lost braking when a tire gets worn,” said Chris Helsel, Goodyear's Chief Technology Officer. “We've shown you can recover about 30% of worn versus new braking loss in terms of stopping distance.”

Road friction information can be a signal into advanced driver assistance systems, which can manage when braking or steering maneuvers begin and how aggressive they should be, helping to reduce crash incidence. When aggregated in the cloud, the information can be shared with connected vehicles to make the entire fleet safer. Tires may not look very sophisticated, but they are a fundamental part of road safety and efficiency, and they are getting smarter, just like the rest of the car.