The innovative compounding and engineering that will be required from tire makers in the future will be pushed by sustainability, tire intelligence and tire performance, the panelists said. The tires will need to be self-healing, have sensors for fuel economy, treadwear and grip, and the ability to transfer this information to the autonomous automobile.
"You no longer have a driver interacting directly with the vehicle, and this affects the requirements of tires," Mousseau said. "They may not have to be as aggressively designed. That offers opportunities.
"Tire design is a trade-off, a trade-off of one performance to another. AVs could reduce higher performance traits, like cornering performance, and then trade up on stopping distance or grip."
Mousseau said it is crucial to know where a vehicle is driving.
"Ride is important, and tire noise is more prominent in an EV, as there is no engine noise," he said. "In addition, we have to be concerned about torque management as EVs generate much more torque. How do we prevent the wheels from spinning? A number of things need to be rebalanced."
Queen said tire makers will need to be flexible in their offerings and innovative in their approaches, perhaps like never before.
"When we think of the future we have to consider the changes in use cases," he said. "A mass shift toward fleet operations is a big change for the vehicle and entire companies. A fleet operations tire is way different than a tire for mass market consumers."
The same goes for the EV platform, vehicles that are likely to be heavier than their internal combustion engine counterparts.
"Adaptability is interesting," Queen said. "If you can morph a tire from city to tunnel-ready, that would provide a nice balance."
The lack of a driver provides an even more interesting dynamic with the literal absence of the human touch.
"We are all taught to pay attention to the road's feel through pedals, the seat, the steering wheel," he said. "How do we provide that sensibility back into the vehicle itself?"
The answer, in part, may be industry cooperation across fields once considered off limits, such as in research and development. But if the industry can curb its competitive spirit enough to eschew the small victories and realize that game changing technology is for everyone, there is reason to be optimistic.
"In the last 50 years, the role of government regulations is to make sure that products developed by the transportation industry are environmentally friendly, energy efficient and safe," Rizzoni said. "The efforts to establish a standard to allow cross-collaboration between companies is fundamental.
"It should be born out of a necessary spirit of cooperation and confidence. We should be thinking about how to interact with one another."
Rizzoni said he has the "great advantage of not being a tire expert."
"I can imagine things," he said. "I see an increasingly connected world with greater and greater computational capabilities. Would it be possible to imagine a world in which tires are capable of adapting themselves to ambient conditions, providing variable performance? As far as evolutions and revolutions, in many ways we are poised and ripe for a revolution. Let's not forget that the typical life cycle of a vehicle is 17 to 20 years. That is a lot of tire changes. But autonomy is coming."
Rizzoni noted that replacing current internal combustion engine vehicles with a new generation of vehicles will take place progressively.
"Remember that for awhile many vehicles will still be operated by human beings, and there will be a mix of both types of vehicles on the roads together. That is a challenge that needs to be met for sure," Rizzoni said.
Mousseau agreed that the fallibility and unpredictability of human beings—and estimating the nearly infinite possibilities of what could go wrong—is going to be difficult.
"At slow speeds, such as in cities and urban areas, the risks are fewer," Mousseau said. "With Ross' tunnel vision, I'd love to see it, though."