New "Smart" Tires Coming to Self-Driving Cars

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Perhaps a bit lost among the myriad exotic car introductions at this week’s Geneva Auto show are automotive concepts of a different nature. Let’s call them “smart tires.”

Designed specifically for the coming generation of autonomous driving cars, Goodyear unveiled two concepts that are miles ahead of today’s tires in terms of technology and safety.

The most advanced of them is the Goodyear Eagle-360. For starters, it’s spherical-shaped, looking like a kids’ playground kickball from the side. The tire maker says this unusual profile will allow a car to move in all directions, thus enabling easier and safer maneuvering and the ability to navigate and park in tight urban environments. Meanwhile, the irregular tread design is said to mimic the pattern of brain coral so it can essentially behave like a sponge, remaining stiff while dry, but softening when wet for improved performance and added protection against aquaplaning on slick roads.

Someone say “connectivity?” Indeed Goodyear’s futuristic concept incorporates sensors that would communicate road and weather conditions to the vehicle (as well as other cars in the area), with advanced tire-pressure monitoring to help maintain even wear and extend its longevity.

But perhaps the most futuristic aspect of the Eagle-360 is that it would incorporate a magnetic levitation system that could suspend the vehicle (slightly we assume) from the pavement, thus affording a smooth and quiet ride. We can see the advertising banner now: “It’s like driving on a ball of air!”

A second, more realistic, tire concept that might come to production with the first wave of “super cruise control” self-driving vehicles, is the Goodyear Intelligrip. It likewise includes sensors that can relay both road and climate information to the car, and changes in its own inflation and temperature. This would enable an autonomous car to adapt its speed for maximum vehicle stability and enhanced cornering, and to maintain a safe stopping distance, based on the aforementioned conditions.

“By steadily reducing the driver interaction and intervention in self-driving vehicles, tires will play an even more important role as the primary link to the road,” says Joseph Zekoski, Goodyear’s senior vice president and chief technical officer. “Goodyear’s concept tires play a dual role in that future both as creative platforms to push the boundaries of conventional thinking and test beds for next-generation technologies.”

Makes those old steel-belted radials seem dumb as stumps, eh?

This article originally appeared on Forbes.

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