Could Pirelli's new tyre be the future?

Technology in cars has come on leaps and bounds over the last few years; we've seen active aerodynamics, brake steering systems, DRS, KERS and 900bhp hybrid systems. There's one thing on these cars, however, that is yet to undergo a jump into the 'robot age' – tyres. After several years of development, Pirelli are almost ready to change that fact.

Just as milliseconds make all the difference in Formula One, it's the little things that make all the difference; in this case the small difference comes from Pirelli's new 1cm3 sensor - Pirelli's future tyre utilises this to give the driver a wealth of information which can be used for both safety and performance.

Depending on the tyres desired use, Pirelli fit up to three sensors to the tyre which talk to a small black box, which is fitted to the car; in turn, this black box then starts to talk to the cars ABS, ESP and other on board systems.

The tyre then starts to formulate data based upon these systems and the roads surface in real time; this is relayed to the driver offering readings for friction, contact between road and tyre, tyre pressure, tyre temperature, average load and number of revolutions.

Further to this, the tyre can then use this information in relation to the forces that are acting under the footprint of the tyre and convert these details into readings on how much potential grip there is or the measure of aquaplaning on a wet road – Pirelli's future tyre is alive, it monitors everything in realtime.

There's a lot of information on offer from Pirelli's future tyre but how can a driver actually utilise it all? Maurizio Boiocchi, General Manager for Technology at Pirelli, told Top Gear:

“You can have a sort of monitoring system and offer the driver some warning that they are too close to the limit of the car – to drive slowly…or, for instance, if you imagine it linked with a sat nav, you can see in advance that a band of weather is arriving with a certain amount of rain, and you will have a certain amount of grip"

Maurizio also goes on to add that the system could use its sensors to feed real time braking distances to the cars head-up display, distances that would change depending on the weather, tyre and brake condition.

“This could be a real number acting on the braking system…but you only have to be aware of the fact that the distance you are measuring across might not be stable – there might be a puddle in the middle. What's important here is the device is listening to these instant condition changes and acting properly."

There's more to these future tyres than just safety, Pirelli see large advantages in using the tyre for performance – an area where car tyres are often one of the most important aspects. Throughout testing the future tyre was utilised to improve maximum lateral G after being set up for a certain hard handling circuit; the tests allowed Pirelli to demonstrate how they can improve vehicle performance in areas that are usually difficult for teams to advance in.

Reinforcing this point, Stephen Reil, Head of Audi's Quattro division, said:

“When you're developing your race car – or indeed road car – you have the engine guy, who works for a few weeks and manages to get a lap time a few tenths faster…Then you have the suspension guy who after a couple of weeks manages to go another two tenths…Then you have the tyre guy, the guy who I say has the 'black gold'. He puts on a new tyre, and you get seconds quicker. That's how important tyres are to performance."

Production versions of the future tyre are still a little while away, Pirelli's recent advantages and proven gains, however, go a long in demonstrating the future direction of what is probably the most overlooked area of automotive advancement.