TYRES are going high-tech to cope with the advances being made by car manufacturers in the latest generation of electric and autonomous vehicles.
As everyday transport becomes more sophisticated, tyre makers are responding by making the one common feature of every vehicle ‘smart'.
German tyre brand Continental is as the forefront of development which could lead to tyres changing shape automatically to cope with differing conditions.
The so-called ContiAdapt concept adjusts a tyre's pressure and alters the rim width in an instant to optimise contact with the road while the ContiSense system uses sensors to measure tread depth, temperature and tyre damage, relaying information to the driver electronically.
The two systems enable continuous monitoring of the tyre's condition, as well as situation-matched adaptation of tyre performance characteristics to prevailing road conditions.
As the days of driverless vehicles come ever closer Continental is aware of the safety needs for accurate information about all aspects of a vehicle's operations to be instantly available.
It has also developed a tyre - the EcoContact 6 - which can be used by most types of current models including electric vehicles.
The EcoContact 6 is being produced in 95 sizes and on rims ranging from 13 to 20 inches with most achieving the highest A standard for braking in the wet and low rolling resistance under the EU's tyre labelling scheme.
Significantly, it is available for tall and narrow rims which work best on electric vehicles where they help increase range.
The ContiAdapt system uses micro-compressors integrated into the wheel to adjust the tyre pressure with a variable-width rim which can modify the size of the contact patch.
Four different combinations allow the tyre to adapt to wet, uneven, slippery and normal conditions.
A smaller contact patch combined with high tyre pressure make for low rolling resistance and energy-efficient driving on smooth, dry roads while the combination of a larger contact patch with lower tyre pressure delivers ideal grip on slippery roads.
The system also permits very low tyre pressures of below one bar to be set, helping to ease the vehicle out of a parking space in deep snow, for example, or traverse a dangerous stretch of black ice.
ContiSense is based on the development of electrically conductive rubber compounds that enable electric signals to be sent from a sensor in the tyre to a receiver in the car.
Rubber-based sensors continuously monitor both tread depth and temperature. If the measured values are above or below predefined limits, the system at once alerts the driver.
If anything penetrates the tread, a circuit in the tyre is closed, also triggering an immediate warning for the driver - faster than the systems used to date, which only warn the driver when the tyre pressure has already begun to fall.
The system can even detect information about road conditions and its temperature sensors can recognise snow, passing the data to the driver or transmitting it via Bluetooth to a smartphone.
Continental says the cost of the extra sensors would not be significant and it is hoping to introduce its ContiSense technology soon.
The EcoContact 6 range is already available and is priced from around £57 per tyre.