Leading tire manufacturer, Continental has commissioned its first driverless tire test vehicle for testing tires over a wide range of road surfaces at its test site in Uvalde, United States.
The purpose of using a driverless test vehicle is to make the test results for Continental’s passenger and light truck tires more conclusive and thus minimize the impact of the test procedure on the results. The new test vehicle is derived from the company’s automated ‘Cruising Chauffeur’, which was developed for freeways.
The autonomous vehicle can be controlled using a satellite-based navigation system. It comes with camera and radar sensors, which makes it possible for the car to react immediately to people, animals, or other unexpected objects on the track, even without a driver.
Continental said that its development team based at Ulvalde is thus helping the company to make its Vision Zero strategy for accident-free driving a reality.
Commenting on the step, Nikolai Setzer, member of the Continental Executive Board and head of the tire division said that in critical situations, the level of technology of the tires can play a critical role in the vehicle’s ability to brake in time. When tire tests are conducted using an automated vehicle, it is possible to achieve highly conclusive test results and thus ensure the premium quality of the company’s tires.
According to Continental, it is a really challenging task for the company to carry out quality tests while tires are in use. Newly developed rubber compounds and tire models have to be tested under real-life conditions, in order to assess how they would perform on different types of terrain, like on gravel roads. Conducting such tests places huge demands on the drivers of the test vehicles as even the smallest deviations on the test track can make a huge difference in terms of the quality and comparability of the test results.
From 2016, the team helmed by Thomas Sych, who oversees tire testing at Continental, has been working on the tire test of the future in Uvalde. Sych explained that the team wanted to automate and thus standardize tire tests to the extent that it is possible to identify even the smallest differences in the tires. When an automated vehicle is used to conduct the tests, it is possible to reproduce processes precisely, so that every tire in the test experiences exactly the same conditions. Thus, the testing team can be sure that the differences in the test are actually caused by the tires and not by the test procedure.
In order to achieve accurate results, Continental’s engineers had already developed an electronically controlled car to automate tire tests 50 years ago. The test vehicle of the time followed a wire that was glued to the track, and this meant that it could be used only on asphalt test tracks. The current prototype can also safely navigate along gravel roads without a driver. In addition to the significantly improved comparability of the results, the tire 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 centimeters each time. Thus, the test track is subjected to less wear and tear, needing less maintenance in the long run.
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.”
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