Today, every new gizmo and gadget is filled with the hope and promise of making our everyday lives hassle-free, and the automotive industry is no exception. Continental is at the forefront of a new trend: smart tires, which notify drivers when their wear has reached a dangerous level.
Continental's first smart tires, released in 2002, featured sensors that could notify the driver when the air pressure was too low. This time around, Continental will release tires that can sense both tread depth and dangerous wear trends. The sensors will warn drivers by illuminating a hazard light on the dashboard, signaling the need for new tires.
Continental tread depth sensor conceptualization.
The new sensors are based on the Continental electronic Tire Information System's pressure monitoring technology. The software tracks the way a tire rolls in real-time, and it compares that to available data on how the tire should be rolling, considering its age. If there is a discrepancy between actual and ideal data, the sensor will alert the driver to check the tires for abnormalities or deformations.
Continental engineers have also devised a way in which the sensors can monitor tire tread depth. When it falls below industry standards (4 mm in the winter and 3 mm in the summer), the driver is alerted that the tires should be replaced.
The company is also working on a feature that would notify drivers if they are carrying a dangerously heavy load. The sensor is expected to monitor the weight and pressure being placed on tires while they are rolling. It would notify the driver when the vehicle is above the maximum recommended weight.
The smart tires are expected to hit the market in Europe in 2017. There has been no word on whether or when the US would see the technology, though Continental did promise to incorporate electronics better into all of its tires.
Andreas Wolf, head of Continental's body and security sector, said in a press release that the company is excited to promote safety through the delivery of a technology that makes it easier to know when to change tires, which are among the most important safety features of a car.
The company also noted an environmental benefit of the technology: Improper tire pressure can increase carbon dioxide emissions and decrease fuel efficiency. When tire pressure is below the recommended PSI, the car must work harder than normal to execute basic functions. According to Energy Department figures, this seemingly small consequence decreases fuel efficiency and increases CO2 emissions. A car's fuel efficiency decreases 0.3% if its tire pressure is off by 1 PSI -- an average of 144 additional gallons of gas each year.
Continental is still working out the kinks in the technology. If the company doesn't make the technology accessible to Americans, we can bet our top dollar that its competitors will.