Future tire tech: inside the car tires of tomorrow
September 12, 2017
Let’s hear it for stuff. For hardware that’s not connected or intelligent or any of the other buzz words. Stuff like tyres – the most old-school, passive, downright dumb component on your car.
Or not. If that was ever true, it’s not going to be true for much longer. Tire makers such as Goodyear are now diverting considerable resources to thinking outside the box; cars are changing fast, and Goodyear isn’t sitting back waiting for instructions.
Speaking at Goodyear’s Innovation Centre in Luxembourg, technology chief Romain Hansen tells us: ‘We know a lot more about the contact between car and road than car manufacturers do.’
Goodyear currently works with 20-25 car manufacturers, who will invite them to get involved in developing or adapting tyres for new models, often early in the car’s development. But Goodyear also creates its own concept tyres, not always related to specific cars. It’s not cheap and it’s not quick, but it is proving fruitful.
Hansen says: ‘If you ask an engineering team to improve a tire, they will. But if you ask them to tell us what a tyre might look like in 10 years, they come up with different ideas.
'Improving the tire is what we do every day. Between 2025 and 2030 there will be drastic change, driven by CO2 restrictions, electric vehicle developments, the anticipation that pollution will be so bad that cities will not allow traffic in some areas.
‘If you don’t need a driver, the space for tires will be different, and the way we use cars will change; automated vehicles will stick to speed limits in a way that humans sometimes don’t.’
Car tires of 2045: a whole different ball game
In-house expertise in materials, moulding, tread design and performance evaluation is supplemented by outsiders, including design school Rubika, who got Goodyear’s creative juices flowing by creating a virtual vision of the world in 2045.
‘Collaboration is a good way to develop. And now there’s a culture of open innovation, with companies and institutes pooling ideas and expertise.’
Concept tyre designer Sebastien Fontaine agrees that a multinational like Goodyear needs to open its doors: ‘The future is collaborative: different projects being worked on by different companies who may have no clear vision of the future, but when r&d opens up they’ll see how their ideas can join up with other ideas.’
Fontaine adds: ‘Designers work in teams with engineers, scientists and materials experts. We don’t waste time on ideas that couldn’t work, and they won’t all be in production tomorrow – but in a few years some will be.’
Five innovations coming to a Goodyear tyre near you
1) Having a ball
Goodyear has shown two spherical concept tires, connected to a car by magnetism. Plus points of spherical tires include longer life; if part of the tire gets worn or damaged, it rotates automatically to put a different part in contact with the road. And no need for space-consuming suspension. Could lead to… cars that drive themselves to KwikFit.
2) Generating electricity
The BH03 concept (above) was created to spark debate about tires generating electricity. The tread is designed to absorb light and the heat created by the movement of the tire over the road, then converted into electricity – not enough to power a car, but it would extend the range. Could lead to… smaller engines.
3) Sharing the news
In-tire sensors and computers can keep tabs on tire pressure, temperature and wear rate (above), and form part of a network of car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure data sharing. Concept designer Sebastien Fontaine says: ‘We do need sensors everywhere to have the Internet of Things.’ Could lead to… early warning of dangerous road surfaces.
4) Shape shifting
The Triple Tube concept has three inflatable/deflatable tubes with an integrated pump. It can adapt to road conditions by changing shape. Eco/Safety setting, with all three tubes fully inflated, maximizes economy. Sporty mode optimizes dry handling by reducing the pressure in the shoulder tube. In Wet Traction mode the centre tube is more inflated than the others to reduce the risk of hydroplaning. Could lead to… real all-weather, all-year ability without the need to change to winter tires.
5) Keep it quiet
Noise is coming under pressure from regulators – not just engine noise, but the noise coming from the whole moving car. The Urban Crossover concept uses an open-cell polyurethane foam element that dampens the sound created by the tire rolling over the road surface. Could lead to… less need for weighty soundproofing around the engine.