“Where the rubber meets the road” is an excellent location to learn many things about the “road” and the performance of the vehicle riding on that rubber. In the case of farm equipment, the rubber meeting the soil also provides fertile ground for information gathering and automated equipment decision making.

Imagine driving a tractor over a field of varying soil types and moisture conditions. As you go, the tires automatically sense slippage and adjust the inflation and tread for optimum traction in real time to boost productivity. Imagine using sensor-equipped tires in the field to measure and map compaction layers ahead of a smart tillage tool that adjusts to break the plow pan. At the same time, imagine a tire that senses damage or a puncture and goes about repairing that damage on the go.

While not “show-room ready” at an ag tire dealer’s store, the technology exists in the tire and other industries to accomplish all those things in agricultural tires as markets mature. 

Last fall, Continental unveiled its VF TractorMaster Hybrid tire which incorporates pressure sensors to help operators minimize soil compaction in the field and reduce tire wear while on public roads. 

Continental’s very high-flexion (VF) tires feature a unique hybrid tread design which can be used for lower pressure in the field and at higher pressure for highway transport while carrying the same load. The company says when the tire is fitted to tractors with on-board air compressors, the pressure of the tire can be monitored and adjusted by the operator without having to leave the cab. 

Advancements in machine artificial-intelligence (AI) and remote sensing — better known as “the internet of things” (IoT) — make the same operation possible without operator engagement.

Jay Spears, director of standards and regulations for Continental Tire the Americas LLC, says on the automotive side, the company has developed two technologies: ContiSense, which monitors tread depth and the presence of punctures through electrification of tire rubber; and ContiAdapt, which actively adapts the tire footprint to the detected road condition or the driver’s preference.

“True ‘smart tire’ technology will allow vehicles systems to automatically react…” 

Also for automotive applications, Goodyear uses IoT technology in its Eagle 360 Urban tire. Developed for the growing autonomous and electric (AV and EV) vehicle markets, the Eagle 360 is made of a super-elastic polymer embedded with numerous sensors to communicate with an on-board artificial-intelligence processor. Using road and tire data collected in real time, the AI processor can change the tread design to respond to current road conditions on the fly. The Eagle 360 is also capable of recognizing tread damage and performing limited self-repairs.

Another innovation from the Blimp Folks is the demonstration Oxygene tire which is embedded with a plethora of sensors and what Goodyear calls “bionic skin” to sense road and tire conditions. The electronics within the tire power an AI unit, as well as a light strip that illuminates when the driver brakes or changes lanes. Requiring no batteries, the Oxygene tire uses living moss and photosynthesis to generate current for its electronics.

Both the Eagle 360 and the Oxygene tire are 3-D printed, unlike traditional tires which are hot-molded from rubber compounds.

Smart tire technology is being driven by demands for interconnectivity of AV and EV automotive applications, which differ markedly from tires designed for use on vehicles powered by internal combustion engines. Weight distribution and higher torque availability found in EV use requires different tire compounds, and eventual AV applications promise to see faster speeds in closer quarters with other vehicles, so braking ability becomes even more critical for tires of the future.

In recent studies by Nokian Tyres, 34% of European drivers are eager for tires that will adapt to weather and the condition of the tires themselves.

Nokian’s spokesperson for new technology development, Teemu Soini, says current sensors within the tires can measure tread depth and wear and through AI can alert the driver when new tires are needed or when they need to be rotated to optimize wear patterns.

“The first wave of smart tire technology exists in tire-pressure monitors on new cars which alert the driver to low-pressure conditions,” Soini explains. “True ‘smart tire’ technology, however, will allow vehicle systems to automatically react to information from the sensor — without any driver interference.

“Currently, there are very few ‘next-generation’ smart applications in automotive and industrial tires, but this will change rapidly in the next 5 years.”