AKRON—As vehicles become more complex in the future, including the development of autonomous automobiles, Goodyear sees tires becoming even more important for safe travel.
This has the Akron-based tire maker understanding the need for collaboration, even potentially with competitors, to create the tires of tomorrow.
As chief technology officer at Goodyear, it's part of Chris Helsel's job to consider just how travel will change in the years ahead and ensure his company is providing products that meet upcoming needs.
He shared a bit of what he believes the future will hold as the keynote speaker for the 39th annual Tire Society conference that kicked off Sept. 28. Like so many other activities these days, the conference adopted an online approach due to concerns over COVID-19.
One thing the future holds, in his opinion, is that autonomous vehicles are coming. It's not a matter of if, but when. And tires, Helsel said, will play an outsized role in safety as they represent touch points to the road.
"The autonomous vehicle tipping point is coming, and we see this as a huge opportunity to bring the tire an intelligent technology … enabling what will be the future vehicle drivers," Helsel said. "You may be thinking, 'How will the tire help enable autonomous vehicles?'
"When you take away the driver, you take away the feel of the road that could have come through the hands on the wheel, your body in the seat and your feet on the pedals," Helsel said. "In an AV, that job, the feel of the road, is best done at the four points of contact with the road, the tires, to optimize and integrate with driverless vehicle systems looking at everything from stopping distance to ride comfort to predictive maintenance."
So tires will play a vital role in the development of AVs and electric vehicles, and Helsel said there's a reason Goodyear is leveraging the tire to help advance the next generation of transportation.
"Our industry's critical position, touching the ground, can help create the world's greatest driver when synced with the systems of the vehicle and uniquely tuned to the type of vehicle," he said. "This is an area we are exploring. And once you introduce the touch point of the tire with the intelligence of the vehicle you can create the ultimate riding machine.
"All of this will generate more change in the next 10 years than the tire and automobile industries have seen in the last 50 years. We are embracing the opportunities of the future mobility ecosystems and pursuing disrupted collaboration with longtime partners and startups," he said.
As for its partners, the executive said it doesn't matter if it's a company Goodyear has worked with for a century, or a startup it's only worked with a few months, the message is the same.
"We tell them let's disrupt together rather than each other," Helsel said. "This collaboration is more important as we shape a new mobility ecosystem. This mindset is truly foundational for Goodyear. We call it disruptive collaboration and it allows us to use our unequaled expertise with traditional tire offerings with a shared approach to work with any forward-looking partners on tomorrow mobility solutions.
"If you first accept that change is and always has been with us, then disruption is really nothing new. Why not work together?"
There certainly are rules and regulations surrounding just how much competitive companies in any industry can collaborate. And there are business reasons as well. But Helsel sees one area where tire makers potentially can come together for the good of pushing technology forward in a cohesive manner.
This kind of collaboration to create standards typically is undertaken in what is known as a pre-competitive setting, often organized by trade groups or standards companies, to allow for discussion among companies while maintaining competition.
With the vast variety of tires in the market these days, Helsel said it is important that the industry ultimately create common standards they all can use when developing systems to integrate smarter tires into tomorrow's vehicles.
"There are so many different sizes of tires, in different segments—all season, summer, winter—that can be on a vehicle at any given time and then across so many manufacturers. The scalability of a solution, if it's unique to each tire and vehicle combination, is pretty complex. So managing that complexity will be on the critical path to scale," he said.
The Tire Society describes itself as a non-profit group "with the mission to disseminate knowledge and stimulate the innovation of tires as it pertains to tire science, engineering and technology."
Helsel said "innovation is necessary, and we need to think differently than ever before. Trends in mobility are changing rapidly, causing us to think about how technology pushes forward new design attributes."
Goodyear is very good at traditional innovation of tires and looking to go beyond tradition to meet new mobility needs, he said.
"As a long-established company, there is no guarantee we will remain that way. We need to be ambidextrous, steadfast in developing a safety product in the form of a tire while being agile with experimentation and in market learning beyond tires," Helsel said.