German technology company, Continental at its test site in Uvalde, United States the Tier 1 supplier has commissioned the first driverless tyre test vehicle for a wide range of road surface types.
The aim is to make the test results for Continental’s passenger and light truck tyres more conclusive and minimise the impact of the test procedure on the results. The new test vehicle is based on the company's automated 'Cruising Chauffeur', which was developed for freeways.
The autonomous vehicle is controlled using a satellite-based navigation system, and is equipped with camera and radar sensors, to allow the car to react immediately to people, animals, or other unexpected objects on the track, even without a driver.
Continental says the development team from Uvalde is thereby contributing to making its Vision Zero strategy for accident-free driving a reality. “In critical situations, the tyres’ level of technology is the deciding factor in whether a vehicle brakes in time,” said Nikolai Setzer, member of the Continental Executive Board and head of the tyre division. “With tyre tests which use an automated vehicle, we achieve highly conclusive test results and thereby ensure the premium quality of our tyres.”
Testing under real life conditions
According to the company one of the challenging tasks in tyre production is to carry out quality tests while tyres are in use. The newly developed rubber compounds and tyre models have to be tested under real life conditions, for example, showing how well they (tyres) perform on gravel roads. Continental says driving the test vehicles places huge demands on the drivers, as even the smallest deviations on the test track can have a huge impact on the quality and comparability of the test results.
Thomas Sych and his team of engineers and students have been working on the prototype for an automated tire testing vehicle.
Continental says since 2016, the team led by Thomas Sych, head of tyre testing at Continental, has therefore been working on the tyre test of the future in Uvalde. “We want to automate and thus standardise tire tests to such an extent that we can identify even the smallest differences in the tyres,” explained Sych. “The automated vehicle enables us to reproduce processes precisely, meaning that every tyre in the test experiences exactly the same conditions. This way, we can be sure that differences in the test are actually caused by the tyres and not by the test procedure.”
For achieving accurate result, Continental says the company's engineers have already developed an electronically controlled car to automate tyre tests 50-years ago. At that time, the vehicle followed a wire that was glued to the track, which limited its use to asphalt test tracks. At present, the prototype can also safely navigate along gravel roads without a driver.
In addition to the significantly improved comparability of the results, the tyre test using automated vehicles will also reduce the maintenance work required for the test tracks. The company says this is because the vehicle is sent on a route that varies by just a few centimetres each time, the test track is subjected to less wear and tear, thus requiring considerably less maintenance.
Sych said, “Thanks to close collaboration with colleagues from many different areas of Continental, we have made a lot of progress with our prototype for the tyre test. Our focus now is on further developing the necessary camera and radar systems for this special case of off-road routes, so that the vehicle can react appropriately when people, animals, or other vehicles unexpectedly appear on the route.”