With the advent of MaaS (Mobility as a Service) and subsequent rise of car sharing, ride sharing and other such services, we are increasingly seeing a shift in the role that automobiles play in our society: transitioning away from being an asset that is owned and toward becoming a tool that is used. As a consequence, the performance requirements of tires are also undergoing some major changes. In light of these recent trends and with an eye toward the next generation, the Sumitomo Rubber Group is actively moving forward with research and development on our SMART TYRE CONCEPT with the aim of developing new tires and peripheral services that provide greater performance than ever before when it comes to Safety and the Environment.
SMART TYRE CONCEPT is a catchall term for our efforts to develop the various technologies that we will need to create the tires of the future, such as “tires that are fully compatible with autonomous vehicles,” “tires that provide solutions for greater safety and peace of mind,” “tires that incorporate Life Cycle Assessment” and so forth. We have already made significant progress in developing products that feature SMART TYRE CONCEPT technologies, including “Performance Sustaining Technology,” which suppresses tire wear and rubber deterioration over time so that tires can maintain like-new performance for longer, as well as “Life Cycle Assessment (LCA),” which improves environmental performance throughout the entire lifecycle of a tire so that tires can contribute to the realization of a recycling-oriented society.
SENSING CORE is an entirely new technology that transforms tires into sensors, which is achieved simply by introducing our proprietary algorithm to the ECU (Engine Control Unit) that controls vehicle brakes. SENSING CORE is able to detect road conditions (such as slipperiness, etc.) as well as tire wear status, load, air pressure and more. The system not only collects and processes this data for optimized vehicle control, but also shares data through the cloud for big data-driven analysis of information compiled at the city level or even the societal level. All of the resulting data is then provided as feedback so that vehicles can detect and avoid potential hazards related to road or tire conditions before they even arise.
With the transition to autonomous vehicles, the role that humans play in ensuring safe transportation will shrink as vehicles themselves take on a wider range of responsibilities in this regard. As tires are the only part of a vehicle that comes into direct contact with the road, the Sumitomo Rubber Group is working to establish a new technology that responds to changes in road conditions (such as water or ice) by actively changing the functional traits of tread rubber to optimize tire performance for the current road surface and weather conditions, thus ensuring uninterrupted safe driving and peace of mind even when faced with sudden changes in road conditions during automated driving.
The Sumitomo Rubber Group is also actively engaged in the development of technologies that aim to suppress the degradation of tire performance that occurs over time due to wear and the deterioration of rubber so that tires can maintain like-new performance for longer. For example, the use of “Liquid Farnesene Rubber,” a high-performance biomass material that is effective in preserving rubber suppleness, allows tires to maintain outstanding on-ice performance for longer. Meanwhile, the addition of “Hydrogenated Polymer,” a material that is completely different from conventional polymers, to tire rubber has the effect of significantly reducing the degradation of wet grip performance.
The Sumitomo Rubber Group is also pushing forward with research and development toward bringing to market a practical version of GYROBLADE, our brand of tires that never need to be inflated. Airless tires provide greater transportation safety and peace of mind by freeing the driver from worries about flat tires and the trouble of having to manage tire pressure.
The Sumitomo Rubber Group is also working to develop products that contribute to the realization of a recycling-oriented society by incorporating Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) into our products with the aim of enhancing environmental performance throughout their entire lifecycle, focusing not just on raw materials and production, but also on shipping, usage and even recycling. We have already made great progress in promoting LCA in terms of raw materials, completing the development of the world’s first 100% fossil resource-free tires made from all-natural resources in 2013 and the world’s first tires to include “Cellulose Nanofiber” in 2019.