Tires have evolved to offer a range of options and possibilities, increasing reliability, safety, and offering the potential to reduce our environmental footprint.
Often when the topic of technology in the automotive industry emerges, what follows is a focus on the latest driving, safety features or components related to a vehicle, but often forgotten in such discussions is the significance that tires make to vehicles.
Tires are not only hugely important for the safety of vehicles (they are literally where the rubber meets the road) — they’re also important in improving fuel efficiency. They’re a part of the car that can be taken for granted, but are arguably one of the most important elements.
From the early days of the automobile until now, tires have seen many technological advancements, including improvements in the raw materials and chemical compounds that have allowed them to perform more effectively over time. These developments have led to better grip on snow and ice, improved handling in wet conditions, and tires that are more reliable and longer lasting than ever before.
New technology continues to transform the tire and as we look into the future, there is an expectation that the tire of the future will be able to talk to drivers, be more eco-friendly, safer, and more durable.
Every driver knows the frustration of getting a flat tire. Run-flat tire technology allows you to continue driving your vehicle, even after a puncture emerges. Extremely strong sidewalls provide a driver with enough time — usually up to 50 miles (around 80 kilometres) — to get to an auto shop to have a tire repaired or a safe location where you can do it yourself. While run-flat tires are not new, they are growing in popularity and some automakers are now making them standard in new cars.
An even bigger evolution is the advent of self-sealing tires, through which a liquid automatically seals a puncture. This is an area in which a great deal of research and development continues to take place, and tire companies are already offering self-sealing tires.
Airless tires or non-pneumatic tires (NPTs) is a concept that multiple tire companies are investing a great deal of research dollars. In fact, Bridgestone has announced plans to be the first tire brand to provide airless tires for commercial vehicles, while Michelin is also getting into the action, having showcased a prototype of a tire that doesn’t need to be inflated at all and hopes to start producing airless tires by 2024.
Of course, there are a number of other areas of innovation taking place, including the development of smart tires, through which a sensor in the tire’s internal wall monitors interact with the road surface and signals the driver of changing road conditions.
Bridgestone’s contact area information sensing system goes one step beyond, transmitting real-time information to the driver about air pressure, tread wear, and road conditions — promoting driver safety. In the years ahead, one can only assume that this technology will become vital in the development of autonomous vehicles.
This brings us to technology aimed at actually replacing rubber. New carbon black manufacturing technology provides an emphasis on cutting the environmental footprint of its tires — and the potential to convert sustainably sourced wood biomass into carbon black.
Another potential solution being studied is using a wildflower — yes, the dandelion. And while this innovation may be years down the road, researchers believe there is potential to use ordinary plants and weeds to manufacture tires in the future — and the dandelion is at the top of the list, because it grows so fast.
Current and ongoing advancements in tire technology are not only exciting, but also have the potential to reduce our environmental footprint and provide real-time information that will ensure greater reliability, while also creating a safer driving experience — which is important because both literally and figuratively, there is so much riding on our tires.