You've heard of driverless driving. Now Continental AG is focusing on driverless tire testing.

The company has commissioned a driverless tire test vehicle for multiple road surfaces. The company says the goal is to make its passenger and light truck tire test results more conclusive. The new vehicle is based on Continental’s automated Cruising Chauffeur, which was developed for freeways.

The test vehicle at Continental's track in Uvalde, Texas, is controlled using a satellite-based navigation system. Equipped with camera and radar sensors, the car will be able to react immediately to people, animals or other unexpected objects on the track, even without a driver.

“In critical situations, the tires’ level of technology is the deciding factor in whether a vehicle brakes in time,” says Nikolai Setzer, head of Continental's tire division. “With tire tests which use an automated vehicle, we achieve highly conclusive test results and thereby ensure the premium quality of our tires.”

Testing tires in real-world conditions is a critical component, and that includes driving new tires made of new rubber compounds on lots of surfaces, like gravel roads. 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.

At Continental's testing facilities in Uvalde, Texas, new tires are being testing in real life conditions, but without a driver behind the wheel.

At Continental's testing facilities in Uvalde, Texas, new tires are being testing in real life conditions, but without a driver behind the wheel.

Since 2016 Continental has been working on what it calls the tire test of the future. The team in Uvalde is led by Thomas Sych, head of tire testing at Continental. “We want to automate and thus standardize tire tests to such an extent that we can identify even the smallest differences in the tires,” says Sych. “The automated vehicle enables us to reproduce processes precisely, meaning that every tire in the test experiences exactly the same conditions. This way, we can be sure that differences in the test are actually caused by the tires and not by the test procedure.”

Fifty years ago Continental engineers created an electronically controlled car to automate tire testing. Back then, the vehicle followed a wire that was glued to the track, which limited its use to asphalt test tracks. Today’s prototype can also safely navigate along gravel roads without a driver.

One benefit to driverless tire testing is uniform testing on various road surfaces.

One benefit to driverless tire testing is uniform testing on various road surfaces.

In addition to the "significantly improved" comparability of the results, the tire test using automated vehicles also will reduce the maintenance work required for the test tracks. Because the vehicle is sent on a route that varies by just a few centimeters each time, the test track is subjected to less wear and tear, thus requiring less maintenance. “Thanks to close collaboration with colleagues from many different areas of Continental, we have made a lot of progress with our prototype for the tire test." says Sych. "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.

"We know from our own research, such as the Continental Mobility Studies, that trust is extremely important for the mobility of the future. We are fully aware of this responsibility when developing these new technologies.”

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