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Intelligent tires

Knowing in real time the tire’s working conditions would be very useful for security and cost reduction: this is why major tire manufacturers are studying and proposing new and very advanced solutions 

Nicodemo Angì

In a world where even objects communicate, why should tires be an exception? It would therefore be appropriate for these very useful tires to share with the driver or an on-board computer any pressure drop, overheating or tread wear affecting them.

On the other hand vehicles - not just cars - are increasingly connected, both to an on-board computer and to the web (that’s how, for example, you can remotely control the vehicle’s fuel level through an app) and would therefore be a natural extension of this trend to have tires that can send information.

In fact "connected" tires are closer than we might think, with all the premium manufacturers that have already presented their solutions, some of which are already on the market.

A tire that sends information provides many benefits – both to the end user as well as to a corporate fleet manager - in terms of safety, economy and energy efficiency.

These applications are already concrete but future scenarios are being outlined in which tires will interact with ABS, ESP and other on-board systems in order to increase grip, comfort and safety.

Examining specific cases we discover with pleasure that one of the major manufacturers driving this new technological development is Pirelli with various systems dedicated to fleet management.

Its Cyber Fleet system , for example, uses a sensor placed inside the tire, glued to the inner liner; this device weighs only 25 grams, lasts about 300,000 miles and is universal, that is, suitable for tires of all sizes and with any speed code.

The sensor transmits data on 433 and 315 MHz, stands pressures up to 12 bar and also stores data via RFID such as the identification number of the tire, approval certification and so on.


Data? As you wish!

The recorded data - pressure and temperature of the tire - can be managed through a static or dynamic solution; the first sends data to a receiver, for example when a truck returns to the fleet’s location or garage.

The dynamic management, on the other hand, provides for the receiver to be placed on the vehicle; the data collected is sent to a "telematic box" that combines them with GPS data (speed and position) and sends them to the Web via a secure GPRS / UMTS module, which then accesses the cellular data networks.

The Pirelli system provides for warning lights against fast and slow pressure loss, over-heating and a tire check-up schedule given that the sensor measures the driving distance.

From next year, Pirelli will launch, in partnership with a top carmaker, tires with sensors able to measure grip, the presence of hydroplaning and tread wear.

The system is compatible with the FMS (Fleet Management System), for remote fleet management standardized in 2002 by Daimler, Man, Scania, Volvo, DAF and Iveco for their heavy transport vehicles, while in 2004 a system suitable for coaches and buses was presented.

These interfaces can record a large amount of data, such as speed, clutch and brake pedal movement, cruise control, the position of the accelerator pedal, the engine’s rpm, the load on the axles and more.

The data are recorded at variable time intervals between, depending on the application, 20 milliseconds and 10 seconds.

The information thus produced has proved very useful in operating vehicles in optimum conditions of safety and economy. It is well known, in fact, that low tire pressure increases the rolling resistance and the working temperature of the tire, thus increasing consumption and the risk of bursting.

Knowing the conditions of the tires even from a distance is very useful and gives a great contribution to the efficiency of fleet management: if the tire works at the correct pressure the wear is lower, fuel consumption is lower and the life span longer.

Goodyear Dunlop also presented at last year's Geneva Motor Show, a concept tire sporting a microchip.

This small device does not need a battery to operate and sends to the onboard computer the values of pressure, temperature and type of tire. The control unit of the car can use this data in real time to adjust precisely the responsiveness and sensitivity of the various control systems such as ABS, ESP: just think of the differences that exist between tires of the same size and speed codes produced by different manufacturers.


Tread wear indicators                                                             

The chip placed in the tire cannot be damaged during routine maintenance operations and - if the new tire is compatible with this system of data collection - this useful technology will be active even after replacement.

Tests have been conducted on Dunlop SportMaxx RT sports tires but it is still unknown exactly when this technology, developed with the brand Huf specialized in the field of tire control systems, will go into production.

Continental is currently developing its own concept of connected tires, with the idea of making it capable of measuring also the tread wear. The idea of this interesting feature involves producing a file archive of data on the tire’s rolling variations over a long period of time. The pressure sensor (we know that TPMS systems are required starting November 2014 for new registrations) gathers the operational features of the tire from the variations of its periodic deformation, i.e. the flexion and extension of the sides in the area of contact with the road.

The current rolling features are compared with the information in this "database" (stored within the car’s electronic memory) and the exact level of tread wear is determined. As soon as the system detects that the tread has reached the legal limit, a signal that informs the driver about the need to replace the tires is produced, and, outstandingly, it could also alert a service center.

Continental is keen in pointing out that the useful TWI (Tread Wear Indicators) will be kept, indicating that the tread has reached the legal minimum.

Other indicators that Continental aims to produce with its studies relate to the "real" inflation pressure, even if the pressure gauge of the tire inflation station is not so accurate, and the detection of the axle load. The latter function will serve not only to avoid overload but also to sharpen the assistance these devices give the driver.

It is likely that some of these developments will see the light in two to three years time, but it is comforting to know that not only the TPMS will spread quickly but some of the above mentioned solutions are already on the road: Pirelli Cyber Fleet, for example, has been available for a few years and has already traveled millions of miles in Germany, Sweden, Turkey, Italy and Brazil.

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