AKRON-Research by one of the world´s top tire and rubber companies is driven by one main theme: the vision of auto makers.
That was the message from Hiroshi Mouri, president of the Bridgestone Americas Center for Research and Technology, during his keynote address at the ACS Rubber Division spring meeting, held May 8-10 in Akron.
At the Bridgestone research center in Akron, Mouri said they currently are working on 26 projects, labeled A to Z, all related to future aspirations of automotive customers. They also work on some non-automotive projects, with golf balls being the most exciting.
During his address, he discussed the current status of some of the alternative automotive technologies either currently in use or under development.
He said electric vehicles have come a long way-now needing just five minutes to recharge-and are ready for road-testing. Mouri showed one concept electric vehicle that had eight tires and wheels, with a motor inside each of the wheels. The vehicle has a top speed of 230 mph.
"I think it´s still far-fetched, but it may be trying to show how electric vehicles can be very powerful," he said.
As for hybrids, he said these gas-savers don´t just come in small sizes anymore. He noted that Lexus soon will have a hybrid option.
The Bridgestone executive said he thought that was a bit strange, as most Lexus owners are rich enough they don´t need to pay attention to gas mileage. But then he was told that the target buyer for these hybrids are people "interested in saving the planet."
Clean diesel ignition systems are now available, he said, as an engine that can guarantee cleaner air. These offer a better option for fuel economy than traditional gasoline engines, but only can be used with diesel engines.
The eventual solution to the clean air problem, Mouri said, will be fuel cell cars. However, these vehicles still will take awhile to become widespread in use, perhaps a decade or more.
In general, Mouri said the Bridgestone center aims toward these four general research goals:
—innovation breakthrough technology that is expected by customers;
—more focus on long-term research and work on challenging items;
—keeping an eye on cutting-edge science at universities; and
—seeing new business opportunities based on technology.
Working on tire technology is interesting because the needs of the various tire types can be so wide-ranging, he said.
For example, passenger tires need better rolling resistance-especially to help on fuel economy-but still must meet other targets related to such things as wet traction and dry handling. Other factors that have to be taken into account include grip, performance, durability, ride comfort and aesthetics, among others.
Then there is work to be done on such varied tire applications as racing and mining. One fitment on a Caterpillar 793B mining vehicle, he noted, is a tire that weighs nearly 10,000 pounds.
Mouri also related a story about the development of the Blizzak tire compound, which contains thousands of pores to create a myriad of biting edges to grip the road. The company´s researchers got the idea from studying the bottom of a polar bear´s feet, along with the pattern on the feet of a gecko.
"This just gives you an idea that we´re working on innovation," he said.
Mouri also discussed Project N from the alphabetical list, which focuses on polymeric micelle nanoparticles. While nanoparticles are viewed as new science, he said carbon black has been used for 50 years and it´s technically a nanoparticle.
But he sees the micelle nanoparticles as a potential breakthrough technology. "It will stay inside the matrix of a polymer and never become an airborne particle," Mouri said. "That is unlike some of the other fillers."