Imagine “smart” tires that can sense road conditions, such as rain, snow, or even beach sand, and automatically adjust the pressure and the width of the tires to deliver the best performance. That’s the goal of Continental, the giant maker of tires as well as automotive technology and safety systems.
At the Frankfurt Auto Show under way now, Continental showed two linked tire technologies, ContiSense and ContiAdapt. The company said they could both be available within five years.
ContiSense: How’s the Tire and Road?
ContiSense would embed sensors and a conductive rubber layer in the tire. It would measure inflation pressures, which the currently available TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system) does not, and also tire and road temperature, the presence of moisture (snow, rain, or ice) on the road, and tread depth.
All that is transmitted wirelessly to the cockpit — meaning a Bluetooth-equipped phone initially, and later a module in the car’s infotainment/safety system. ContiSense would also tell immediately if a nail or road debris punctured the tire; TPMS systems respond instantly only to catasatrophic failures, such as when a low-profile tire sidewall bursts after it hits a pothole.
ContiAdapt Varies Tire Pressure, Wheel Width
Responding to the tire and road data, ContiAdapt actually changes the tire pressure and wheel (rim) width, on the fly. The purpose is to change the contact patch of the tire, the palm-sized part of the tire that contacts the road surface. Even ultra-wide tires have contact patches essentially the same size (at the same tire pressure) as mainstream tires. The tire would have three tread zones for driving on wet, slippery, or dry surfaces, activated by changing the tire pressure and wheel width.
Continental envisions settings for wet, slippery, uneven, and normal roads. Higher pressures would yield a smaller contact patch for higher efficiency on straight, dry roads. Tire pressure would be reduced for slippery roads, and reduced even further to less than 1 bar (14.7 psi) for going through deep snow at low speed, or off-roading on a sandy beach. Once the car is back on more normal roads, it would re-inflate itself via micro-compressors inside the wheel.
This obviously means a more costly tire, a more costly wheel, and the possibility the two might have a different rim and bead design. In the past, buyers haven’t taken kindly to being locked into a proprietary wheel and tire combo, such as Michelin TRX. But Continental’s system represents — in theory, at least — a giant step forward.
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