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Continental in-tire sensors read tread depth

The close cooperation between electronics and tire developers at Continental, the international automotive supplier, continues to bear fruit. Future tire pressure sensors, for instance, will be able to detect when a tire change is necessary due to insufficient tread depth. Explaining the importance of regular tread depth monitoring, Andreas Wolf, head of the Body & … Continued

The close cooperation between electronics and tire developers at Continental, the international automotive supplier, continues to bear fruit. Future tire pressure sensors, for instance, will be able to detect when a tire change is necessary due to insufficient tread depth.

Explaining the importance of regular tread depth monitoring, Andreas Wolf, head of the Body & Security business unit, points out, “It’s not for nothing that legislators all over the world have defined a minimum tire tread depth for safe driving. We are delighted that we will, in future, be able to conveniently read tread depth electronically with the aid of sensors embedded in the tires.” Intelligent software makes the new feature possible. The software deduces tread depth from gradual changes in tire rolling characteristics. The in-tire pressure sensor infers running characteristics from the variations in tire deformation. The new feature is tentatively slated to be available as of 2017 in new vehicle models equipped with direct tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) from Continental (electronic Tire Information System, eTIS).

The secret behind tread depth detection

For this completely new type of electronic tread depth detection, Continental engineers draw on a tire’s gradually changing rolling characteristics over a longer period of time. Tire and electronics developers conducted an intensive series of tests that allowed the basic data to be fed into the electronics of future vehicles. The specifics of the tires’ altered rolling characteristics are compared with the accumulated empirical data. If the tread is run down to below a tire-specific threshold value, the on-board electrical system signals that a tire change is due. If so desired, the vehicle’s telematics module is even capable of informing the local auto service center. It goes without saying that people will still be able to check for themselves when the recommended or legally required minimum tread depth has been reached. For this purpose, the tire has wet-TWI (tread wear indicators). These are small ridges between the tread grooves that indicate that the brand manufacturers recommended minimum allowable tread depth (3 millimeters in summer tires, 4 mm for winter tires) have been attained.

Tires becoming intelligent

With the introduction of the first tire pressure sensors from Continental in 2002, the most important link between the vehicle and the road became intelligent .Since then, tire pressure sensors have been able to provide tire-by-tire information about the current tire pressure and conveniently warn drivers if tire pressure is too low. As of November 2014, a tire pressure monitoring system will become mandatory for newly registered passenger cars (Vehicle class M1) in the European Union. Tire sensors can help ensure optimum inflation pressure; this extends the life of a tire, reduces fuel consumption and, consequently, lowers CO2 emissions. Continental relies on these direct measuring systems with precise pressure display. With these, a sensor reads the tire pressure either at the valve or directly under the tire tread. If a second set of tires needs to be equipped with sensors, Continental already supplies the corresponding retrofit sensors under the VDO brand.

Continental extending the operational scope of future tire sensors

Continental is working with carmakers all over the world to further expand the range of features that in-tire pressure sensors can provide. Every tire loses air slowly but surely. The tire pressure sensor ensures that drivers are informed of tire pressure loss at an early stage. Therefore they do not run the risk of driving with one or more dangerously underinflated tires. Initial car models equipped with intelligent sensors from Continental automatically signal when a tire being inflated has attained the required tire pressure. The Filling Assistant is a big help when inflating tires and guarantees the right tire pressure even when non-calibrated filling stations are used. Rolling resistance is reduced as a result and the tires perform at their maximum capability in terms of safety and comfort.

Load detection gearing up for series production

Another feature about to be produced is load detection. Here, the vehicle uses software developed by Continental to specifically detect whether the maximum permissible load has been exceeded. This is very handy when setting off on vacation, for example. The electronics quickly detect a change in rolling characteristics due to excessive load and inform the driver of the respective axle load. Future driver assistance systems will use the load information to adjust their functions to the respective vehicle weight. Over the long term, this makes automated driving features safer still and even more convenient.

With sales of €33.3 billion in 2013, Continental is among the leading automotive suppliers worldwide. As a supplier of brake systems, systems and components for powertrains and chassis, instrumentation, infotainment solutions, vehicle electronics, tires and technical elastomers, Continental contributes to enhanced driving safety and global climate protection. Continental is also an expert partner in networked automobile communication. Continental currently has approximately 178,000 employees in 49 countries.

The Automotive Group with its three divisions Chassis & Safety (sales of approx. €7.3 billion in 2013, roughly 36.500 employees), Powertrain (sales of approx. €6.3 billion in 2013, roughly 32,400 employees) and Interior (sales of approx. €6.6 billion in 2013, roughly 34,400 employees) achieved sales of approximately €20 billion in 2013. The Automotive Group is present in more than 170 locations worldwide. As a partner to the automotive and commercial vehicle industry, it develops and produces innovative products and systems for a modern automotive future in which cars provide individual mobility and driving pleasure consistent with driving safety, environmental responsibility, and cost-efficiency.

The Chassis & Safety division develops and produces electronic and hydraulic brake and chassis control systems, sensors, driver assistance systems, air bag electronics and sensors, washer systems, and electronic air suspension systems. Its core competence is the integration of active and passive driving safety into ContiGuard. The Powertrain division integrates innovative and efficient system solutions for vehicle powertrains. The comprehensive range of products includes gasoline and diesel injection systems, engine management and transmission control, including sensors and actuators, as well as fuel supply systems, and components and systems for hybrid and electric drives. Information management is at the heart of the Interior division, which provides a range of products that includes instrument clusters and multifunctional displays, control units, electronic car-entry systems, tire-monitoring systems, radios, multimedia and navigation systems, climate control systems, telematics solutions, and cockpit modules and systems.

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