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Continental e-TIS, the dawn of the intelligent tire

Tires that speak!

Everything seems to be connected nowadays: brakes communicate with the engine and the water pump with the GPS system. Tires, on the other hand, are a little bias, but things could rapidly change thanks to Continental’s e-TIS system.

Nicodemo Angì

Tires have to cope with a clear “injustice”. One of the most important components in any vehicle seems to have been neglected, being excluded by the kind of interaction that involves other parts, for examples, the advent of electronics in engines resulted in fuel injection  and hi-tech ignition system and their subsequent successful union.

The fact that ignition and injection are closely linked resulted in the elimination of the hand throttle and the starter, guaranteeing quick starts in any climate, since sensors – from drive shaft speed, temperatures and cooling liquid as an example – “recognize” the conditions and consequently regulate ignition timing and fuel injection accordingly. Sensors and connections have increased exponentially, just think of the constant communication between the GPS system and on-board control units to reduce power consumption. For example, nowadays cars are “aware” of an approaching downhill and reduce oil and water pump pressures (since lubricating and cooling requirements decrease) and increases the alternator charge, since the engine will be decelerating anyway.


We are almost there 

Things are finally about to change. Active suspensions communicate with control systems, while tires remain “silent”, if we exclude TPMS sensors, small sensors inside tire valves able to send vital data on tire pressure to a control unit. Nevertheless, the mandatory use of TPMS systems clearly shows the importance of knowing more about the state of our tires.

Important information indeed: we know that the wrong tire pressure (slow variation) worsens the working conditions of the tire, accelerates wear and tear, which tends to be more irregular, and reduces performance and safety. Early detection of a sudden change in pressure, as well as the danger of a puncture or a serious and visible tire damage can be prevented by alerting the driver.

In view of the increasing communication between different on-board systems, TPMS data is a decisive step forward, but supplying timely information on the conditions of the road surface and the forces that the tires have to cope with would make an important contribution in managing the most advanced safety systems.

Just think about ESC and ABS technology to mention just a few: tires are the only part of a vehicle that directly interacts with the road surface, but at the same time, they remain one of the few "relevant components" whose data is not included in any of the algorithms used by safety devices.


Get the necessary data!

Richard Durance, Automotive engineering manager at Continental, said that "the existing sensors respond quickly but are still not able to react - and thus report – to a sudden loss of grip. But if tires could directly empower ESP or ABS systems with their data, this problem would be detected in advance and vehicle systems may react with precision maximizing grip in virtually any condition".

Recall that the ESC (Electronic Stability Control, also known as ESP, Electronic Stability Program) is mandatory on all cars sold in the EU since 2014 and is widely recognized as a life-saving technology, just like the ABS. More than one study has attributed to this system the ability to reduce by 25% the probability that a vehicle equipped with both systems should be involved in a fatal road accident compared to other vehicles.

We know that ESC systems use sensors and ABS actuators, bringing a sudden loss of  grip back under control thanks to the rapid selective braking of each individual wheel (possibly together with an engine power cut ) so that the forces thus generated can bring the vehicle back on course. Current ESCs use a gyro sensor to see if a vehicle is starting to skid, while ABS pole wheels detect the speed of the wheels, brake pressure and the steering angle. All "indirect" data, helpful in showing whether a vehicle is losing grip: Continental, on the other hand, plans to obtain data directly from the source, the tire.


And now, e-TIS!

This technology, eTIS (electronic Tyre Information System), is currently being tested, and is based on sensors placed inside the inner lining of each tire. They evaluate in real-time the driving conditions sending the relevant information via a radio frequency connection to the computer that runs the car's systems. The eTIS system can also replace mandatory TPM Sensors and its sensors can be even lighter, depending on the size of the batteries that feed them.

The benefits of the eTIS system goes well beyond mere stability control: the system detects the load on each tire, measures the mileage covered and calculates the life span of the tire monitoring, in real time, any changes to its rolling characteristics. If there was an eTIS cloud, the data could be networked and other road users could be warned against possible dangers, for example by being warned about the presence of ice on the road.

As Continental, other manufacturers are likewise studying "communicative" solutions, and this will make future cars safer.

Continental, traditionally associated with tires, is also a major producer of braking systems, chassis components and suspensions, sensors and driver assistance systems. A turning point for the group came with the acquisition of Siemens VDO in 2007 for 11.4billion euro, and nowadays tires make up “only” 28% of the company’s total business volume. 

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