AKRON — It was mostly gems and at least one small wart on display at Goodyear's Innovation Day event on Tuesday, July 25, when the company showed business and automotive journalists the technologies it says will drive future tire development.
Goodyear has invested millions in technologies such as smart tires, which have sensors that communicate with fleet operators and with systems driving autonomous vehicles, providing data Goodyear says improves both safety and efficiency.
That technology, called SightLine, is among the most important that Goodyear is developing, and it's about to be unveiled in vehicle showrooms, said Chris Helsel, senior vice president of global operations and chief technology officer.
"Before the close of the year we will have our first original equipment fitment for SightLine," Helsel said. He declined to name which vehicle will have the technology but said it's probably safe to assume it's from a domestic manufacturer. (There are a lot of Ford F150 references around Goodyear's technical center, but Helsel wouldn't bite when asked if the popular pickup will be the first consumer vehicle with SightLine.)
Journalist got a ride in a Cadillac outfitted with the technology, which includes wireless sensors in all four tires, a special system in the trunk to collect their data, and a real-time readout attached to the dashboard. While one engineer drove the vehicle, another explained the data, which included things like tire temperature, pressure, the model of the tire, its history, current road conditions, traction conditions, total load per tire … the list goes on.
That data not only can help autonomous driving systems to be safer and more efficient, but it helps fleet operators avoid breakdowns and reduce their overall cost of operations by using the data and algorithms that recommend service when needed, Helsel said.
Goodyear's OEM partner is still determining what data will be available on the initial consumer vehicles with the technology, but whatever is unveiled initially is likely to be added to later with system updates, he said.
Much of that data will be more valuable to vehicles than to their drivers, especially with semi-autonomous vehicles. For example, tire identification is not necessarily information that a driver is going to use, but it can be critical to a system managing a vehicles efficiency or braking. Tires do not all have the same type of rubber — winter tires are softer than summer tires in cold weather, for example — and that means they react differently to braking, acceleration and other forces.
All of that information, collectively, already is making a difference.
"We've shown how we can recover some of the lost stopping distance on a worn versus a new tire," Helsel said.
Another technology under development, and seemingly proving to be more challenging, is non-pneumatic tires. They work, as Goodyear showed with demonstration drives on the tires mounted on an electric Kia. But they're loud — much louder than regular air-filled tires, and too loud to be attractive to most consumers, Helsel and others concede.
But development is a process, Helsel said, and in this case the process is simply not complete.
"You put (new technologies) into earlier applications, then you work your way up to on-road vehicles," he said.
The non-pneumatic tires have been used on mowers and robotic urban delivery vehicles, where noise is less of a consideration and also not an issue because speeds are low.
Some work will be required before they're suitable for faster and heavier vehicles and Helsel thinks they'll be available first to fleet operators, who might be willing to trade some comfort for increased reliability, and finally to commercial truckers.
"The furthest challenge is large commercial trucks, because then you have both high load and high speed. ... That's probably the toughest application," Helsel said.
There are plenty of other technologies coming thanks in part to Goodyear's venture fund, which it launched in 2020 to invest in smaller companies that can partner with Goodyear on technological endeavors. Goodyear has been investing in companies such as Gatik, a California company working on autonomous delivery vehicles.
Unlike most venture investors that invest with the goal of cashing out later at a profit, Goodyear's main aim with its venture fund is to promote, develop and access new technologies, and especially technologies involving autonomous vehicles and other aspects of the "internet of things" where vehicles and all sorts of other devices are connected to the web.
Goodyear brings to those partners additional resources, Helsel said.
That includes money, of course, but it also includes specialized expertise and facilities.
For example, not only does Goodyear own and manage test tracks where both vehicles and their tires can be put through all sorts of real-world conditions, it also owns advanced vehicle simulators that enable it to virtually test tires and other vehicles components.
It showed off a new dynamic driving simulator made in Luxembourg known as the DiM250. A group of automotive journalists watched chief test driver Christopher Knauf doing fast laps around Germany's famous Nürburgring race track in an F150 body mounted to the simulator.
He was able to do that because the vehicle body was just for show, and the simulator was set up to behave as if Knauf was driving an actual race car, so a turn taken too quickly resulted in a spin-out rather than a roll.
The simulators, which Goodyear also has in Europe, cost millions of dollars each, but they save more than that. With them, Goodyear can test new tires, vehicle management systems and other components virtually. That means it can see how a tire design performs before it even makes the tire in physical world. It can choose the best designs before going through the high cost of prototype production and physical testing, Goodyear engineers say.
Meanwhile Goodyear also is getting greener and has been continuing to work on making more sustainable tires, including by using soybean oil instead of petroleum to make tires.
And, of course, it's also making tires that are advanced and also just plain cool, such as the futuristic tires for Tesla's new Cybertruck, which reportedly just began rolling off assembly lines in Texas earlier this month.