Smart Tyre Concept: SRI’s vision of greener, more intelligent future tyres

The Tokyo Motor Show 2017 is currently taking place, and visitors to the biennial event are amongst the first to see Sumitomo Rubber Industries’ new Smart Tyre Concept from Sumitomo Rubber Industries, Ltd (SRI). The aim of this new concept, shares the tyre maker, is to “aid in the development of tyres that provide balanced safety and environmental performance at higher levels than ever before.” The launch will be followed by the commercial introduction of tyres containing technologies seen in the Smart Tyre Concept, as well as further concept products, over the coming decade.

SRI’s development of the Smart Tyre Concept is a response to what the manufacturer describes as massive changes within the automotive industry’s business climate. Growing concern over environmental issues, increasing urbanisation and aging populations, and the rise of connectivity and artificial intelligence are driving demand for new solutions from vehicle manufacturers, and in turn from tyre makers. With the Smart Tyre Concept, SRI aims to achieve both improved safety and higher environmental performance.

Three key areas of technology are included in the Smart Tyre Concept – safety technologies, Enasave eco technologies and ‘core’ technologies that support the concept through cutting-edge simulation and analysis technologies. The three areas take the form of five R&D trends: Sensing Core, Active Tread, Performance Sustaining Technology, Airless Tyres and LCA (Life Cycle Assessment).

Sensing Core: First unveiled in May 2017, Sensing Core is a sensing technology that transforms tyres into sensors through the inclusion of a proprietary SRI algorithm within the ECU (Engine Control Unit) in a vehicle’s brakes. Sensing Core is able to detect slippery road surfaces and other road conditions as well as tyre conditions such as wear, load and air pressure. This data is collected and processed for vehicle control purposes and also for cloud-based big data analysis of information pulled from sources in the vicinity or over a wider area. This data is then provided as feedback to the vehicle so that potential hazards arising from road or tyre conditions can be detected in advance and, whenever possible, avoided.

Active Tread: The shift toward autonomous vehicles means the driver’s own perception of road conditions will player a reduced role in safety. To help vehicles take over this responsibility, SRI is working to establish a new technology that responds to changes in road conditions by actively changing the functionality of tread rubber to optimise performance for the current road surface and temperature at any given time.

Performance Sustaining Technology: SRI reports that its new Tyre Lifetime Simulation technology is “able to predict how performance will change as a tyre undergoes wear.” The tyre maker is utilising these simulations in its ongoing development of Performance Sustaining Technology, which aims to suppress the drop in tyre performance that occurs due to wear and rubber deterioration. The aim is to “maintain the performance of a tyre like brand new for longer.” Performance Sustaining Technology debuted in the Dunlop Winter Maxx 02, which debuted in the Japanese market last year. This tyre contains Liquid Farnesene Rubber, a high-performance biomass material designed to keep rubber supple, thereby maintaining performance on icy roads for longer. “In the future, we will continue working on research and development to suppress the degradation of tyre performance on multiple fronts, such as the development of new materials that enable rubber to control and recover from internal structural deformation and that compensate for functionality that has been lost due to rubber deterioration,” states SRI.

Airless Tyres: Having unveiled its prototype Gyroblade airless tyre at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show, SRI is moving forward with research and development to bring tyres that do not require inflation to market. Airless tyres contribute to greater safety and peace of mind in transportation by eliminating punctures and the need to check and control tyre pressure.

LCA: In 2013, SRI released the Dunlop Enasave 100, a 100 per cent fossil resource-free tyre made from all-natural materials. “Since then, we have been working continually to develop even higher value-added proprietary biomass materials based on raw materials derived from plants,” the tyre maker shares. Going forwards, SRI intends to work towards developing products that contribute to the “realisation of a more recycling-oriented society” by incorporating LCA to enhance its products’ environmental performance throughout their entire lifecycle, from raw materials and production to shipping, usage and recycling.

While the Smart Tyre Concept won’t progress to volume production, elements contained within the tyre will. SRI states that in 2020 it plans to begin mass production of a new tyre that incorporates Performance Sustaining Technology to “maintain the performance of a tyre like brand new for longer.” That same year, it also plans to unveil a concept tyre that incorporates LCA, adopting new materials designed to enhance environmental performance throughout the entire lifecycle. In 2023, a new concept tyre incorporating Active Tread Technology will be unveiled, and SRI says it will be able to “demonstrate the same high level of performance regardless of whether driving on dry roads or under any other type of road condition.” The tyre maker intends to “continue these and other research and development efforts” with the ultimate aim creating an all-new tyre that incorporates all Smart Tyre Concept technologies by the latter half of the next decade.

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