COVID-19 has shifted the adoption of AVs by three to four years, according to Smithers' estimations. By the fourth quarter of 2021, the industry will have a better idea of the timeline for the adoption of levels 3, 4 and 5 autonomy, Lambillotte said.
While the ultimate adoption of AV technology has been delayed, the roadmap to the development of that technology remains unchanged.
Advanced driver assistance systems are steppingstones in the development of AVs. As technology advances each of the automated driving tools, they, in turn, advance the development of the systems that increase autonomous capabilities.
And as the auto industry pursues full autonomy, Lambillotte said two types of tires will emerge: intelligent and active tires.
Intelligent tires collect data about themselves and the world around them, using a variety of sensors. These tires record important information about themselves—SKU, date manufactured, tire pressure, treadwear and maintenance records—as well as the road surface, and then relay that information to the vehicle or another source.
"Specifically, ultimately, (an intelligent tire) gets to what is happening in the surface contact area—in the footprint area—of the tire," Lambillotte said.
Active tire technology builds on the intelligent tires' ability to track, store and relay data, but takes that capability to new levels by processing the information it collects and reacting to it real time.
"We are looking at a tire that not only can sense its environment and react to it—it can actually change in response to it," Lambillotte said.
Active tires will be able to make changes to their own tread or body—perhaps through inflation adjustments—to create better traction on slippery roadways or to provide better grip on dry, rocky surfaces.
Active tires also will need to be tailored to the application in which they are used. For instance, the operating load information may not be as critical for passenger cars, but that kind of information will be needed for commercial truck/bus vehicles. So the ways in which active tires process and react to information may vary by application.
There are several challenges the industry faces in the development of tire sensors that are capable of recording and relaying the proper information needed, especially as technology evolves and the demands placed on it change.
"I think that we can fairly confidently predict that sensing of the environment will move from the outside surface of the tire into the body of the tire, and that will be largely based on what is happening with internal strains and internal vibrations," Lambillotte said. "I think it will be detected, perhaps through accelerometers, but they will be built into the tire."
The most significant challenge for next-generation tire sensors is durability, especially as technology allows for smaller and smaller sensors within the body of the tire. This is critical not only for the continued integrity of the sensor, but also for the tire on which it is fitted.
AV tire sensors will have to withstand impact, temperature, centrifugal force and cyclical failure, while also remaining resistant to dust, moisture, heat and chemicals.
There also are challenges that arise between the original equipment and aftermarket sectors. It will be critical to know what the expectations are for tire sensors on replacement tires, Lambillotte said, adding that retrofitting sensors to tires could become an issue.
He pointed to software compatibility and cost prohibitions as additional concerns.
Lambillotte said these challenges need to be addressed sooner rather than later, because the industry will be facing them within the decade or so.
"A lot of this seems, perhaps, very futuristic even though there has already been a great deal of investment in sensor technology, both by the tire industry and the original equipment vehicle industry," Lambillotte said. "But if we look to the tire industry and say, 'What are the majors doing? Can we tell at all what they are doing?' The answer is yes."
Many of the Tier 1 and Tier 2 tire makers have progressed enough in the development of sensor technology that not only have they named their systems and developments, but they have begun to market them. Lambillotte pointed to Bridgestone Corp.'s Smart Strain Sensor Tires, Goodyear's Intelligrip Urban, Continental A.G.'s ContiSense, Pirelli & Co. S.p.A.'s Connesso Tire and Hankook Tire Technology Co. Ltd.'s Hexonic as examples of intelligent tires.
"You can see there is a lot of work being done in this area," Lambillotte said.