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Tires with smart sensors will tell you when they need a service

We might be on the verge of owning autonomous cars and driving on high-tech “elect-roads,” but the tires that separate our vehicles from the asphalt haven’t changed a whole lot with new technology, right? Try telling that to car tire manufacturer Continental. At the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show, Continental is showing off an impressive concept smart tire — one that’s capable of measuring tread depth and temperature using special sensors, and then alerting drivers of any tire damage they may have suffered.

“The ContiSense technology ‘senses’ all information from the road surface, as well the condition of the tire itself,” Kai Rühling, a senior PR consultant for Continental, told Digital Trends. “With its conductive rubber inlayers it can feel if there is a metallic obstacle puncturing the tire.

“It can also measure the tread depth because the conductive material realizes that the electric tension, which runs through the rubber, is dependent on the material thickness. Simply put, the more rubber material on the tread pattern, the lower electric tension, while the less rubber material on tread pattern equals higher electric tension.”

The electricity for measuring this comes from a sensor and integrated battery. In the future, however, the plan is that the system could also work by generating its own power through contactless movement, similar to a mechanical watch.

“It is the next generation of intelligent tire for autonomous driving vehicles,” Rühling continued. “You as a driver don’t have to maintain the tire anymore as it will service itself. The tire will tell your car, ‘I need a service,’ and in the future, it will communicate as well with other cars.”

The ContiSense is just the latest in a string of tire innovations that researchers and top manufacturers have shown off in an effort to rethink the lowly tire. Goodyear unveiled the Eagle 360 last year, a a spherical tire that would be suspended from a car by magnetic fields; Michelin showed off the Visionary Concept tire earlier this year, an airless 3D-printed concept. And researchers at Harvard University have developed a new type of rubber that, in addition to being as tough as existing rubber, can self-heal in the event that it gets a puncture.

Continental’s futuristic concept is just one of two tires the company is showing off. It has also created the ContiAdapt, a tire with four different tread patterns that adapt to the driving surface. For snow, ice, and gravel, it will deflate the tire pressure with its integrated compressor, and widen the rim for a bigger and better footprint. It can also inflate to find the ideal rolling resistance for wet and dry road conditions.

There’s no word on when the tires might be available, but we’ll certainly keep you in the loop when an announcement is made.

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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