Tires and Data Collection for Autonomous Vehicles – with Chris Helsel of Goodyear

Sharon Moran

Sharon is a former Senior Functional Analyst at a major global consulting firm. She now focuses on the data pre-processing stage of the machine learning pipeline for LLMs. She also has prior experience as a machine learning engineer customizing OCR models for a learning platform in the EdTech space.

Tires and Data Collection for Autonomous Vehicles-1

Technological advancements have contributed to an increase in more efficient and sustainable transportation solutions. Predictions made decades related to autonomous vehicles were wildly optimistic. The automated transportation industry might not align with those early predictions, but there have still been noteworthy developments. 

Software-enabled tires represent a specific subset of software-enabled vehicles and contribute to the main benefit of intelligent transportation: increased safety. 

The number of cars on the road will double by 2040, according to the World Economic Forum. According to a study from USA Today and Blueprint from earlier this year, the number of fatal car accidents increased by more than 16% over four years from 2018 to 2022.

Emerj Senior Editor Matthew DeMello recently sat down with Helsel on the ‘AI in Business’ podcast to talk about the impact of automated transportation on various industries. 

In addition to discussing the implications of the transition to automated transportation, the following article will focus on two key takeaways from their conversation:

  • Overcoming challenges related to tire intelligence: Using sensor fusion to improve driving safety by providing in-depth insights and visibility on essential indicators of mechanical failure and maintenance issues. 
  • Achieving autonomous transportation: How tire sensors can unlock middle mile efficiencies, driving down fuel and workforce costs with autonomous driving via tire intelligence.

Listen to the full episode below:

Guest: Chris Helsel, Senior Vice President of Global Operations and Chief Technology Officer at The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company 

Expertise: Technology Leadership, Computer Modeling and Tire Design, Strategic Initiatives

Recognition: During his tenure at The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, Helsel previously served in multiple roles, including Director of North America Commercial and Global Off-Highway Technology and Global Director of their Strategic Initiative Groups.

Overcoming Challenges Related to Tire Intelligence

At the beginning of the podcast, Helsel begins by explaining how he envisions a future of self-driving cars and answers what the most significant challenges will be for business leaders in transportation-adjacent industries as they prepare for this future.

Helsel says that the big-name technology companies in the automated car industry have really made progress. He briefly describes what those companies have focused on as follows:

  • How do you plan a route?
  • How do you then prescribe that route to being actuated through technologies like automation or robotics?

He describes the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company as functioning as a pivot point to provide a feedback loop to improve autonomous driving. Helsel acknowledges that route planning and vehicle control are excellent, but companies need a feedback loop.

Helsel goes on to explain some of the challenges of what Goodyear refers to as tire intelligence. He explains that a physical sensor is part of Goodyear’s solution. He further explains that Goodyear has a solution that harvests information from other sensors around the vehicle. 

The sensors monitor multiple mechanical functions, including:

  • The torque of the engine
  • Inflation of the tire from the TPMS
  • Location information

Goodyear takes the above information in addition to identifying the tire to start adding value. He further describes the type of value his company can add. “A tire that’s a winter tire versus a summer tire behaves so differently on the vehicle, and those characteristics being presented into the vehicle control systems can really change how you do things like braking or traction control.”

Helsel describes how putting Goodyear’s sensor into their tires enables them to learn more than simply identifying the tire, including information about:

  • Temperature
  • Pressure
  • Accelerations

The combination enables Goodyear to discern how worn a tire is. By knowing the state of the tire, Goodyear is able to reduce stopping distance significantly to make driving safer. In the context of autonomous vehicles, this means there is some additional time to do the necessary calculations, make the decisions, and plan what is needed for the car next, according to Helsel. 

Goodyear provides data as part of their intelligent technology to multiple companies including Hendrick Motorsports as recent as last year for the NASCAR Garage 56 event. The company gathers this data from the sensors placed on tires; however, according to Helsel the value comes from the fusion with other sensors from around the vehicle and also from knowing characteristics about the tire based on its real conditions at that moment.

Helsel describes what he envisions the far future will look like in terms of self-driving cars and explains that all vehicles will have internet connectivity. Self-driving cars can be run similarly to aircraft central control, according to Helsel. These capabilities will enable queueing and optimization of paths as a result of having connectivity into vehicles. It will also further enable proper system optimization, including regulating the speed of vehicles and how the vehicles will interact with each other.

Driving the Fundamentals of Autonomous Transportation

Helsel goes on to talk about a specific use case that his company is involved with through their corporate venture fund. They’ve been installing their tire intelligence to help Gatik achieve autonomous driving. Gatik is executing daily deliveries on prescribed routes from a hub-and-spoke distribution model of central inventory to restocking stores within a 5-10-mile radius.

Goodyear assists Gatik in two ways by providing them with:

  • Real-time tire conditions
  • Real-time road conditions

The road conditions help inform route planning by determining how fast a vehicle should navigate a corner based on whether the road is wet or dry.

Helsel goes on to answer the question about what deeper insights his company is able to derive that help businesses. Helsel explains how Goodyear has been in the market for several years with their tire intelligence for fleets.

He explains the top three costs related to fleets:

  • The human cost of the driver
  • Fuel
  • Tires

Helsel explains how keeping tires inflated and identifying which tires need to be inflated helps to reduce two of the above three costs. He expounds on the concept of rolling resistance and how it improves fuel economy because adequately inflated tires require less energy to roll the tire. The second is that a properly inflated tire ensures that the tire wears appropriately, which increases the lifespan of the tire and reduces costs associated with premature replacement.

Helsel clearly articulates why companies need tire intelligence and describes Goodyear’s fleet solution as compelling and in-market.  He describes a scenario in which a company has a fleet consisting of 100 trucks, and each truck has 18 tires. 

A local inspection is complex with a limited workforce and, according to Helsel, exactly where tire intelligence is a beneficial and more economical solution. Tire intelligence can more precisely identify which trucks need service and which specific tires need to be repaired or inflated. Helsel also elaborates on a lesser-known fact that tires account for about 50% of roadside incidents, underscoring his belief that tire intelligence ultimately prevents roadside incidents.

Helsel concludes by describing Goodyear’s long-standing expertise in making sure vehicles stay connected to the ground appropriately, which they’ve achieved through the use of advanced materials and feedback from design simulations. Goodyear has used 3D printing to achieve some of its tire features and considers the practice part of its hardware solution, according to Helsel. 

Helsel further mentions that their tire intelligence is a software solution that results in a software-enabled tire that makes software-enabled vehicles more practical. Tire intelligence can improve driver assist systems.

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