AKRON — As vehicles become more complex, including the development of autonomous automobiles (AVs), Goodyear sees tires becoming even more important for safe travel.
This development direction underscores the the need for collaboration — even potentially with competitors — to create the tires of tomorrow, Chris Helsel, chief technology officer at Goodyear, told those "attending" his virtual keynote address Sept. 28 to the 39th annual Tire Society conference.
Part of Mr. Helsel's job as CTO is to consider just how travel will change in the years ahead and ensure that his company is providing products that meet upcoming needs.
AVs are coming, he said, and it's not a matter of if, but when.
And tires, Mr. Helsel said, will play an outsized role in safety as they represent touchpoints to the road.
"The autonomous vehicle tipping point is coming, and we see this as a huge opportunity to bring the tire an intelligent technology … enabling what will be the future vehicle drivers," he said. "You may be thinking, 'How can the tire help enable autonomous vehicles?'
"When you take away the driver, you take away the feel of the road that could have come through the hands on the wheel, your body in the seat and your feet on the pedals," Mr. Helsel said.
"In an AV, that job, the feel of the road, is best done at the four points of contact with the road, the tires, to optimize and integrate with driverless vehicle systems looking at everything from stopping distance to ride comfort to predictive maintenance."
Tires play a vital role in the development of AVs and growing popular of EVs (electric vehicles), Mr Helsel said. Goodyear is leveraging the tire to drive smarter mobility and help advance more sustainable and superior forms of transportation, he said.
"Our industry's critical position, touching the ground, can help create the world's greatest driver when synched with the systems of the vehicle and uniquely tuned to the type of vehicle," Mr. Helsel said. "This is an area we are exploring, and once you introduce the touchpoint of the tire with the intelligence of the vehicle you can create the ultimate riding machine."
This evolution will generate more change in the next 10 years than the tire and automobile industry have seen in the last 50 years, he said.
"We are embracing the opportunities of the future mobility ecosystems and pursuing disrupted collaboration with longtime partners and startups," he said. "As we meet and collaborate with companies with whom we've partnered for 100 years or startups with whom we've worked for 100 days, we tell them let's disrupt together rather than each other.
"This collaboration is more important as we shape a new mobility ecosystem. This mindset is truly foundational for Goodyear."
This mindset, Mr. Helsel said, is "truly foundational" for Goodyear. The company calls it "disruptive collaboration."
"It allows us to use our unequaled expertise with traditional tire offerings with a shared approach to work with any forward-looking partners on tomorrow mobility solutions," Mr. Helsel said.
"If you first accept that change is and always been with us, then disruption is really nothing new. Why not work together?" he said.
There certainly are rules and regulations surrounding just how much competitive companies in any industry can collaborate. And there are business reasons as well. But Mr. Helsel said he sees one area where tire makers potentially can come together for the good of pushing technology forward in a cohesive manner.
This kind of collaboration to create standards is often undertaken in what is known as a precompetitive setting, often organized by trade groups or standards companies, to allow for discussion among companies while maintaining competition.
With the vast variety of tires in the market these days, Mr. Helsel said it is important that the industry ultimately create common standards they all can use when developing systems to integrate smarter tires into tomorrow's vehicles.
"There are so many different sizes of tires, in different segments — all season, summer, winter — that can be on a vehicle at any given time and then across so many manufacturers, the scalability of a solution, if it's unique to each tire and vehicle combination, is pretty complex. So managing that complexity will be on the critical path to scale," he said.
Mr. Helsel's keynote address kicked off the three-day 2020 Tire Society confernence, which, like so many other activities these days, adopted an online approach due to concerns over COVID-19.
The Tire Society describes itself as a non-profit group "with the mission to disseminate knowledge and stimulate the innovation of tires as it pertains to tire science, engineering and technology."
Mr. Helsel said "innovation is necessary, and we need to think differently than ever before. Trends in mobility are changing rapidly, causing us to think about how technology pushes forward new design attributes."
Goodyear is very good at traditional innovation of tires and looking to go beyond tradition to meet new mobility needs, he said.
"As a long-established company, there is no guaranteed we will remain that way. We need to be ambidextrous, steadfast in developing a safety product in the form of a tire while being agile with experimentation and in market learning beyond tires," Mr. Helsel said.