AKRON—The city appears to be at the center of something big in the world of tech—something with a huge, imminent market. Something that's going to require years, if not decades, of research, development and testing. Something that will help drive Akron's future economy.
Those rubber doughnuts that might have been good enough for the old man's Oldsmobile, aren't going to cut it in a world full of electric and driverless cars, Goodyear executives and auto technology experts say.
Tomorrow's tires will have a host of sensors and be almost as smart and sophisticated as the cars and interconnected information systems with which they will constantly communicate, said Chris Helsel, Goodyear's senior vice president of global operations and chief technology officer.
"There are a lot of reasons you want intelligence with tires," Helsel said.
Systems to constantly monitor tire pressure have become as common as power windows. Helsel said the next step will be to make tires that monitor and report temperature, their own tread wear and condition, and then even how much grip a road surface is providing via coefficient of friction measurements.
Such sensor-based technology either is in use or soon will be on Goodyear's test tracks in Akron and San Angelo, Texas, he said, but it won't stop there.
"I believe it will be coming to all tires that everybody buys," Helsel said of the developing technology. "When you're driving, not to freak everybody out, but you basically drive on four palm-sized pieces of rubber that hit the road. ... At that interface is the critical information that says: 'Am I gripping or am I slipping?' Think about being able to put all that information into traction control."
Auto makers already are thinking about it and will demand such features from their original equipment tire suppliers in the future, Helsel said. They want to make their cars safer, and smart tires will be the key to getting the most out of things like anti-lock brakes and traction-control systems, he said.
And that's just in the near term. In the years ahead, autonomous vehicles are not only going to need more information from their tires, they'll be able to do more with that information with their faster-than-human reflexes and ability to analyze conditions.
"People are going to want autonomous vehicles to drive safely in the rain, the snow and ice, just like they do today," Helsel said.