A few years back, on a weeklong bus tour of Continental AG’s technology and engineering centers in Germany, one item attracted more attention from journalists than nearly any of the other whiz-bang connected-car stuff: A simple tire pressure monitor.
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Mind you, this was no ordinary tire pressure monitor, which are typically mounted at the valve stem in the wheel rim and measure, well, tire pressure. This one, displayed by Continental engineers as a future tech, is embedded in a rubber cup on the inside of the tire. As a result, the device can transmit information on everything from tire pressure to tire temperature to tread depth, tire loading and traction. Highly valuable details.
Continental now reports the in-tire monitor has been in use on commercial vehicles for about a year, and is available for installation in passenger-vehicle replacement tires through major tire outlets. The monitor sends information wirelessly to the same in-car system used by the old valve-stem monitor.
The monitor is still so new to the market that vehicle manufacturers have yet to take advantage of its capabilities, but it won’t be long before your tire will tell you when it is time for a change (no more Lincoln head penny tests), or when it is overloaded or overheating and at risk for damage. Down the road, traction information will help on-board stability systems adjust to slick spots, while communicating a warning to other cars on the same route that an ice patch exists.
Continental interior electronics engineer Tejas Desai says this is an example of the company’s approach to connected cars and autonomous driving of the future—a future as close as 2025, by the way—in which standalone systems like tire pressure monitors are incorporated into a network of information that the vehicle and driver need to get from Point A to Point B in the easiest and most comfortable way possible. Desai says Continental asks “How can the technology be used today?” and “How does it lead to autonomous driving in the future?”
“If we do things one at a time, we’re never going to get there,” he says.
Add in seamless connectivity for smart phones (“We need to integrate the smart phone as a friend, not as an enemy,” Desai says), cameras to identify the driver to set vehicle preferences and note where he or she is looking, sensors to keep track of lane location and obstacles—and suddenly the possibility of partial or full autonomous driving doesn’t seem so far away.
Suddenly a simple tire pressure monitor doesn’t seem so simple any more.