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Pirelli Cyber Technologies

From mere minion to a leading role in the mobility of the future, the tire is set to become “intelligent” and able to connect to the other cars as well as the surrounding world collecting useful data to ensure safer and more exciting journeys. With "Connesso" Pirelli poses a key block in the development of the "digitaltyre", proposing a solution able to create a real communication between the driver and his tires

Nicoletta Ferrini

We're traveling at night along a high-speed road. It’s winter and temperatures drop with the passing of the hours and a dangerous layer of ice starts forming on the road. Suddenly, light rain makes things even more critical. We carry on driving and, whether consciously or not, we increase the speed to get home as quickly as possible. In so doing we do not take into account the changing conditions of the road surface and, above all, we are not really aware about the condition of our tires. In such situations, skidding and hydroplaning could be facilitated by an inflation pressure lower than we thought or a worn out tread. This hypothetical scenario, more common than one might image, helps us to understand how often the role played by tires in guaranteeing a safe journey is overlooked.

In the debate on "smart cars" – “always on”, autonomously driven and able to communicate with other vehicles and the surrounding world - destined to crowd our streets in the near future, tires seem to attract very little attention. Yet, taking into account all the complex dynamics destined to turn our vehicles into true digital interfaces able to reach every corner of the globe, the tire will inevitably play a leading role. This scenario is already beginning to take shape through innovative solutions such as the one presented by Pirelli as a world preview at the recent Geneva Motor Show. The result of a partnership between the Italian manufacturer and the Politecnico University of Milan, "Connesso" - this is its name - is a platform that, thanks to a sensor embedded within the tire and connected to a mobile app that communicates with the motorist , providing continuous information about a few basic parameters. The four sensors – each weighing a few grams hence having no effect on performance - continuously monitor the operating state of each tire and send the data to an on-board electronic control unit as well as Pirelli’s cloud. These, after gathering all the data, will subsequently process and send them to each driver’s app. In its launch version the system can measure both pressure and temperature of the tire, even when the car is standing still, vertical static load, how worn the tire is as well as mileage. A follow-up version will also be able to estimate the mileage left on the tire and transform itself into a tire pressure meter while the tire is being inflated, providing the driver with exact and accurate pressure readings without having to wait for the tires to cool down.

All this would, in itself, be already very useful and interesting. However, Pirelli "Connesso" aims to do much more, explains Matteo Battaini, Head of Pirelli Marketing & Supply Chain: "Connesso does not just collect data, but puts them in relation to each other providing the driver with solutions to optimize the overall performance of its tires". Cross checking data on the condition of the tires with the condition of the road, the traveling speed and so on, the system generates an "alert" to warn the driver when, for example, the pressure of one or more tires is too low or when the tire wear limit is about to be reached. This is not just "passive" communication. In cases such as those mentioned above, the app itself can identify the nearest available workshops and indicate them to the driver. Furthermore, the system can also directly book an appointment to check the tire pressure or even go as far as pre-ordering a replacement.

Unlike TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems) currently in use, Pirelli Connesso works when the car is running as well as when it is standing still. In future upgrades, the system will be able to detect pressure drops remotely and make the necessary arrangements for a new tire or needed maintenance procedures directly where the vehicle is parked. A special feature of Pirelli’s app “Connesso” is the fact that it is supported by a platform that showcases producers, users and sales networks and that works along with other smartphone applications (maps, music, restaurants, services), being continuously enriched with new contents and functions. “We would like to gather a community of clients linked to Connesso, all of whom will be able to capitalize on a number of exclusive services”, says Matteo Battaini, such as indicating which motorsport events are taking place nearby, as well as giving the possibility to write a review on tire dealerships visited, in order to share opinions about the service received and read the views of other users in the Pirelli Connesso community.

Intelligent and innovative, Connesso is actually part of a wider Pirelli Cyber Technology project, launched by Pirelli back in 2005. "We started, - remembers Battaini - studying solutions for the transport sector and truck fleets in particular" . As a first stage of the project, in fact, we created CyberFleet, a solution dedicated to commercial transport vehicles already used by some of the main transport fleets in Europe and South America. CyberFleet was created primarily to respond to the needs of the latter as far as monitoring their tires. Able to detect automatically tire pressure and temperature, CyberFleet reduces fuel cost maximizing efficiency in maintenance and pressure control operations, thereby helping fleets to contain their operating costs. The logic behind CyberFleet has, in a sense, helped us in developing Connesso. The latter, however, is mainly the result of the constant evolution of the project in relation to recent technological innovations, as Mr. Battaini quickly points out: "in recent years the scenario has radically changed, and the technological development of big data, data analysis techniques as well as the development of nano-technologies and new materials have all contributed to driving the change".

Pirelli “Connesso” is already much more than a developing project. In fact several manufacturers are looking with increasing interest to this solution. Initially, Connesso will be available in sizes from 19 inches upward, on tires such as Pirelli P Zero and Winter Sottozero and will probably equip premium and luxury sedans. US customers, though, will be the first to enjoy this technology as Pirelli is set to launch “Connesso” on the other side of the “pond” next summer. Subsequently, it will be the turn of the various European markets, where Connesso should be available by the end of the year. In 2018, finally, it will be the turn of Asian countries. "Our main goal right now is to put this product on the market, limiting ourselves to high-end segments. - explains Battaini - However, big data technology continues to evolve and in the near future it will play an increasingly significant role. Connected tires are an area that will keep us busy in terms of research and development for at least the next fifteen years".

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