Published on August 19, 2014

OTHER VOICES: Tire sensors working overtime for driverless cars

Continental A.G. illustration
Continental A.G.'s vision for the (near) future.

LONDON (Aug. 19, 2014) — Driverless cars will offer new opportunities for tire companies — if they can adapt quickly and smartly.

The driverless concept has been around a while, but it’s now firmly in the spotlight, with the British government announcing that the technology will make its debut on the nation’s roads next year.

Such vehicles mean humans will be able to take a back seat — perhaps literally in the future — and let the car do the driving and decision-making.

But who will look after the tires? And is it always wise to let technology replace every human action?

Tom De Vleesschauwer, director long term planning & sustainability at IHS – Auto Industry Analysis, believes the subject needs serious attention.

“I think this is the right time to talk about this—we need to stimulate a debate,” he said.

“The situation opens up business opportunities. For example, on the car’s navigation screen a message could appear saying ‘your tires are due for service — would you like to book now?’

“There will also be sensors in the car, so your car will know before you if it has a flat tire — and will send a car out to you.”

Mr. De Vleesschauwer says car manufacturers could “tie in” customers with pop-up screens. Tires could be their next potential revenue stream.

Plenty of companies are producing the vehicles — such as the Volvo XC90 or Mercedes-Benz S 500 — but tire manufacturers will also reap the benefits.

The question of whether extended-mobility tires, such as run-flats, or regular tires are used is not a priority at present. The main issues are about what will happen in the case of tire changes, blowouts, punctures and tread depth.

This is where sensors step in.

Mark Griffiths, communications officer at Continental A.G., said the company has its VDO REDI sensor that measures the tread depth of each tire automatically.

He also said a fully automated car will foresee any blowout and react in the right way — meaning emergency braking and pre-crash assistance.

“The more and more sensors and assistance systems we have in modern cars, the safer they get and the more intelligent the car will be,” he said.

“If we talk about highly automated driving, which is foreseen in our ‘Roadmap for 2020’, the driver should be able to do other things than pure driving. In 2025 fully automated driving should be possible and the car should be able to stop even in critical situations on its own.”

It’s a brave new world, but there will also be other matters to examine. Mr. De Vleesschauwer thinks legal issues are “a bit of a grey area.”

It all depends on who has control over the steering wheel — the person or the machine. (Check out a video of Google's self-driving car.)

And at present, it is illegal for cars to operate on United Kingdom roads without a driver in control.

This entire theme will impact businesses in terms of profit and progress.

But it may also influence humanity’s relationship with machines.

This is a huge topic — and a lot had to be omitted.

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This editorial appeared in European Rubber Journal, a U.K.-based sister publication of Tire Business.

What do you think about driverless cars? Do you trust tire companies to look after your vehicle? Is technology always a force for good? What other issues need to be discussed? Send your comments to tirebusiness@crain.com.

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