The 39th annual Tire Society Conference on Tire Science and Technology concluded Oct. 2 with some intelligent talk on intelligent transportation.
Throughout the week, attendees of the week-long virtual event took deep dives with academic speakers and industry experts into the world of autonomous and electric vehicles, the infrastructure that will be required and the tire's role in this "evolutionary and revolutionary" change.
"With these evolving vehicle platforms, we are at a tipping point—where we're on an evolving journey and coming to a revolutionary change," Queen said.
Moderating an esteemed panel of aerospace, mechanical and design engineers was a senior vehicle dynamicist from General Motors, Mohammad Behroozi.
Behroozi was joined in the discussion by Ric Mousseau of General Motors, lead engineer in tire modeling at GM; Giorgio Rizzoni, director of the Center of Automotive Research at Ohio State University as well as the Ford Motor Co. chair of ElectroMechanical Systems; Chris Queen, director of innovation technology at Goodyear and head of the Beyond Tire Technology projects there; and Ross Tessien of Electricwaze L.L.C., a mechanical engineer with 43 U.S. patents.
"This is going to be the future for us," Behroozi said. "And as a Tire Society we need to act according to what is going to happen in the future. How is transportation going to look in 10 years?"
Tessie noted that inner city transportation and rural transportation will look very different in the coming years. Rural residents will have far less of a need to use a provider like Uber or Lyft for transportation and far more of need to own their own vehicle.
Conversely, a smaller percentage of ownership is predicted for urban areas, "where people will evolve away from ownership to renting," he said.
And it is within urban areas, under main thoroughfares and interstate highway hubs, that Tessie sees an entirely new infrastructure evolving—thousands of miles of tunnels. Tessie currently is working on a high-speed tunnel project with The Boring Co., a spinoff of Elon Musk's SpaceX.
"What is going to be the new normal?" he asked. "Things are going to be completely different than they are today. I don't know how long it will take for fully autonomous vehicles, five years is my guess. That will change transportation as we know it."
Tessie envisions driverless vehicles whipping through the tunnel system at between 120mph and 150mph.
"Traffic jams and stop-and-goes will disappear," he said. "Tunnel transportation will begin in earnest in five to 10 years, and within a decade transportation infrastructure will be completely different than it is today."
Of course, infrastructure is expensive, especially if the goal is to replace 44,000 miles of U.S. highways with underground, high-speed equivalents.
"It is interesting in regard to infrastructure," said Rizzoni, who offered the plenary lecture on the NextCar project Sept. 29. "We are imagining a future with a substantial amount of infrastructure investment, especially with tunnels. The expense would be on the magnitude of the first freeway system."
Rizzoni said the same could be said for electrification. The market penetration for EVs overall currently sits at 2.5 percent, Rizzoni said, and in California that number is closer to 10 percent.
"If these numbers become significant, the role of electric infrastructure will have to adapt," he said.
Either way, a Goodyear engineer is never one to back down from a tire making challenge.
"Tunnels pose a challenge for tire makers—these are high speed, high load and high temperature environments, all exciting challenges for tire engineers," Queen said. "AVs also pose challenges—as they will likely be EV, as well.
"Ross' vision is exciting. That covers on the ground and below—but the potential is all this can take to the skies as well. All these are mediums to be explored and there will be tires in all three roles."