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Pirelli’s ‘cyber tyre’ for cars

Chip in: Pirelli's cyber tyre has an embedded self-powering chip, which transmits pressure and temperature information while on the run.

Electronic fuel-saving hardware embedded in Pirelli tyres could be next for cars

19 Mar 2014

FORMULA 1 supplier Pirelli says tyre-mounted heat and pressure sensors that bring big fuel savings to truck fleets could soon be fitted to regular road cars.

Pirelli’s system uses a chip inside the tyre to gather real-time data before sending it to a module in the vehicle. In commercial uses, this information goes to fleet headquarters.

The technology is currently used in heavy-vehicle applications where fleet-wide fuel savings are most noticeable, but the tiny module can be modified for car use bringing the same safety and fuel saving benefits to everyday commuter motoring.

At just 25 grams, the tiny gadget is small enough to fit inside even compact car tyres and the proven technology would take minimal development to calibrate for car use.

Many new cars are fitted with basic tyre-pressure monitoring systems but the key difference in Pirelli’s system is that, in addition to pressure, the sensors can monitor temperature too.

Combining the two sets of data allows the system to predict a tyre failure rather than reporting a drop in pressure, by which stage the damage may have already been done.

On-board information displays would inform the driver of any changes to tyre pressure and unusual changes in temperature, and could even advise on inflation changes according to driving behaviour or climatic conditions.

If applied to cars and privately owned vehicles the data could also be relayed to a chosen garage or service centre and used to tailor a service plan for the customer or issue warnings if the problematic changes were detected.

In 2012, a Cyber Fleet of 43 trucks covered around 15 million kilometers during testing of the special tyres through Europe and South America.

Each truck saved on average around $1500 of fuel over the course of a year, by allowing the operator to keep a closer watch on whether each vehicle was running on appropriate tyre pressures.

How does it work? A sensor module mounted inside each tyre measures the temperature and pressure of each wheel and can detect small changes in conditions. The information can be either downloaded with a hand-held reader or monitored by a control centre while the vehicle is on the road.

With this information the rolling resistance and wear of each tyre can be carefully controlled, optimising fuel economy while also maintaining the best handling and road-holding characteristics.

Formula 1 teams are also using the valuable information to study and develop the way tyres behave under the punishing and widely varying conditions in different environments throughout the Grand Prix season.

Speaking at the Melbourne F1 Grand Prix, Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery told GoAuto that there is a sharing of technologies between motorsport and road-car tyres.

“When we came in to the sport three years ago we had to take some of our top level development work we do with the premium car manufacturers, particularly in the areas of simulation and modelling where there is a big cross-over,” he said.

“Now possibly we are taking it the other way and we are actually providing into the road car business - more in that direction.

“We are doing a lot of work regarding what happens with compound in touch with the tarmac, which is every tyre makes challenge because you can be here at Melbourne and over three days you have three completely different ways in which the surface is behaving.

“We spend a lot of research time working on that aspect of tyre design and that also has a big impact on road cars because when you are doing road car designs its more complex in many ways.

“That interaction between the road surface and the tyre is gold for us.That's where a lot of our really special stuff goes on.

“If you go back to the early eighties we were the inventors of the low profile tyre - something derived from motorsport.

We actually went along [to car-makers] and said we can make a safe, high-performing road tyre with a lower section to improve the steering feel and the sporting behaviour of the car.

“That is still going on but unfortunately a lot of the development is unseen.

“If we go and make a bespoke polymer to bring in to F1, you won't see that but the improvement in terms of performance could be dramatic.”

CEO of Pirelli APAC Carlo Costa Adissone predicts that the latest temperature and pressure sensing equipment may be followed by more advances in tyre condition monitoring.

“Today the tyre doesn't communicate with the car. We have some break-though technologies there,” he said.

“Another idea which is very difficult is to have a way of measuring tread depth.

“An algorithm could be used to calculate when you are going to need new tyres and link that with a customer relationship management system. That’s really the vision. There’s a lot to do with technology. I love it.”

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