Smart tire senses damage, avoids problems

Researchers at Purdue University said today they have developed a smart tire that can sense failures in real time and detect other defects before a tire is mass produced.

The concept behind the technology is that the entire tire acts as a sensor that sends information to onboard computers. The sensing system can respond to significant changes in a rubber research tire.  The idea is that the sensors in the tire can alert a driver when a condition has degraded and needs attention. The sensors can notify drivers of low air pressure or unbalanced air pressure between tires, which can prolong the operable life of a tire, Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization said.

The sensor technology developed Purdue works for all rubber tires, such as those on passenger cars, trucks, construction equipment, lawn and garden equipment, mining vehicles, and airplanes. The technology has been tested on other components and can be used in rubber products such as vehicle isolators, door and automotive seals, and orthopedic devices, Purdue said in a release.

According to Purdue, the research of sensing techniques to analyze the physical phenomenon of structural failure was first used to design life sensors for hydraulic hoses. The technology was then extended for use in various fields including tires, pipes, and composite materials. Sensor data can help predict catastrophic failure of devices and determine the need for inspection or even preventative maintenance. This technology can reduce safety risks and economic loss due to equipment down time, the university said.

"Some tire damage is not easily detected or prevented, even with proper maintenance and inspection," said Gary Krutz, director of Purdue's Electrohydraulic Center in a statement.  "Occasionally failures occur because of gap damage within the tread, and this type of damage is a particular hazard on all steel-belted tires.”

There are a number of car manufacturers who have some intelligence in their cars to alert drivers of low tire presssure for instance. Bridgestone/Firestone, Goodyear, Michelin and others have looked at or deploy some sensor equipment in their tires already.  Most of the work has also focused on air pressure monitoring as improperly inflated tires waste gas and don’t perfom as well, especially under emergency conditions. Purdue seems to take some of that technology a step further and actually monitor the health of the tire.

Researchers at Purdue have a knack for these sensor devices.  Earlier this year it said it was teaming with the US Air Force to develop tiny wireless sensors tough enough to survive the harsh conditions inside jet engines to detect when critical bearings are close to failing, shut them down and prevent breakdowns or crashes.

The researchers have shown that the new sensors can detect impending temperature-induced bearing failure significantly earlier than conventional sensors. Jet engine bearings must function amid temperatures of about 300 degrees Celsius, or 572 degrees Fahrenheit, researchers said.  Current sensor technology can withstand temperatures of up to about 210 degrees Celsius, researchers said. 

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