Following on from a recent post about Continental redefining the disc brake system, they have also announced a new evolution in tyres.
Whilst a lot of research has gone into materials, compounds and structure of a radial tyre, Continental has used ever shrinking technology to combine sensors into the tyres. Many high-end cars have tyre monitoring systems (TPMS) fitted that give the driver a view of the temperature and pressure of each tyre. I have an aftermarket system that I bought from Davies Craig in Melbourne that is fitted to the valve stem and uses Bluetooth to connect to my phone and will sound an audible alert if my tyres go above or below a band of pressures or temperatures.
Continental has shown two new systems called “ContiSense” and “ContiAdapt”, and they are based on electrically conductive rubber compounds that enable electrical signals to be sent from a sensor in the tyre to a receiver in the car. Like my bluetooth system, they are constantly monitoring the tyre as it is used.
The ContiSense system measures tread depth and temperature and can even alert the driver to any damage to the tyre. This effectively means that the old style TPMS will be consigned to history.
The ContiAdapt system is more interesting – it can automatically adjust the pressure and thus the rim width to map to particular road conditions – for example, if the driver moves from solid tar to a damp grass area, it could lower pressures which would provide a flatter tyre to provide better grip on the slippery surface. The pressure management is provided by micro-compressors fitted into the wheel itself.
It gets better because Continental have developed what I would call a shape-shifting tyre! It has three different tread zones that are “activated” by ContiAdapt and are suited to wet, slippery and dry conditions. Electrically conductive rubber is not a new concept and has been used in a wide variety of applications and often is silicone based. Tyres use silica in their compounds along with wire and other materials, so it was logical to combine the two to ensure that a signal could be passed from sensors embedded in the rubber compounds.
With hindsight it seems a simple idea to have circuits at different levels in the construction that are passing signals through the tyre to sensors. Aluminium is a common material for the conduction filler, however it is not known what material Continental have used – there are several other metal based fillers that could have been used – all seen in consumer technology today.
Now, the only initial downside that I see today, is that the tyre needs to be on a unique wheel design. This is something that BMW drivers had issues with when their run-flat tyres ran flat – they had to buy a new wheel and tyre combination that increased the replacement price substantially. I suspect though, that if Continental gets their ideas to market, more manufacturers will follow and this issue will be resolved.
I do like the idea that a tyre could adjust itself based on usage – combining this data with the onboard systems would then tie in these adjustments with information from the engine, suspension and other sensors such that the vehicle is optimally balanced in all conditions. That could help a driver who has run out of talent or someone who drives but doesn’t understand the vehicle they are driving!