Jonathan Newell finds out how external tyre sensing aims to take the pressure off motorists to make regular checks of their tyres.
It has to be done but, let’s face it, probing tread depths around the car and stopping to take all the caps off and check the air pressure in your service station is a bit of a drag and it rarely gets done between servicing except by the most conscientious of drivers.
Even heavy goods vehicles are not immune. Despite going through a much more stringent and regulated servicing regime, most of those which are on Britain’s roads fall short of tyre standards on at least one tyre.
This is a situation that UK based tyre inspection technology company, Wheelright wants to correct in a way that places the least burden on the motorist and which is most likely to result in improvements. The way Wheelright approached this was to take the technology out of the vehicle and place it into the roadway so that the driver could simply drive over a set of sensors and receive results of tyre pressure and tread depth measurements either through SMS or from a print out from a conveniently located kiosk.
Tyre pressures are taken when the vehicle drives over road-embedded sensor plates and the tread depth is measured using sophisticated multi-image technology and imaging software.
The technology is based on a combination of unique strain gauge sensors that measure tyre pressure and conventional load cells that monitor the vehicle’s weight. The system uses 480 sensors in total, 240 on each side. They are incorporated on the underside of ten stainless steel plates which flex as the vehicle drives over the instrument.
Each wheel on the vehicle is measured as an isolated component, so any change of speed experienced if the vehicle accelerates or brakes has no effect on the overall result. The technology’s software handles multi-wheel and multi-axle measurement by identifying the individual tyres from the contact patch read by the sensors and the space between the individual contact patches.
This provides an alternative to manual checks that can be costly, inaccurate and time consuming. WheelRight’s drive-over system generates easy-to-read printouts or text messages for drivers to quickly reveal the state of vehicle weight and tyre pressure.
UK trials reveal extent of tyre problems
The technology was put on trial in the UK over 12 months between 2015 and 2016 at the Welcome Break Keele Services on the southbound M6 motorway.
Throughout the course of the trial, which included both cars and HGVs, WheelRight collated some truly shocking statistics on the state of under inflation on British roads.
Over the course of the pilot study, the system measured more than 50,000 HGV tyre pressures revealing that every single HGV on UK roads is typically running with at least one under-inflated tyre.
Approximately 65% of the HGV drivers surveyed by WheelRight said they had experienced a tyre related issue while driving on the motorway. Over 90% of drivers said they would use the WheelRight system once a month to supplement their daily checks and 95% rated the system nine out of ten for accuracy and ease of use.
Simple to use
I asked John Catling, the CEO and a founder of WheelRight, how motorists engage with the system. He explained that motorists simply drive over the instrument, which is embedded into the road or garage forecourt. There is no equipment needed on the vehicle itself – with nothing touching the tyres apart from the embedded instrument as the car passes over.
“The latest version now provides both tyre pressure and tread depth data to the driver within seconds. Vehicle identification (ID) is another feature of the latest version of the system,” he explained.
There are a number of ways the driver can access the results – either by mobile phone or using a kiosk. The kiosk provides the option of a graphic of results as well as the vehicle number plate and photo of car. Here, the driver acknowledges their vehicle and receives the results with a touch of the button.
Alternatively, the driver can use the kiosk to receive a simple printed report, giving tyre pressures and tread depth.
Using a mobile phone, drivers can receive the data on screen and register their details on the WheelRight website so that all future tyre readings are automatically sent to their mobile. Once registered, drivers can also use the WheelRight system to highlight tyre condition issues, alerting them when pressures fall beyond certain agreed limits and allowing drivers to monitor their tyres over time, building up a complete history of their pressures.
Technology for smart cities
Now, Wheelright has extended its trials to the USA, where the company is deploying its tread depth and pressure measurement system on “The Ray”, an 18 mile stretch of highway on Interstate 85 connecting Georgia and Alabama, which aims to show how zero deaths, zero waste and zero carbon can be achieved on US interstates.
Named in memory of Ray Anderson, a local visionary and sustainable company pioneer, The Ray is employing the Wheelright system as part of a networked system of smart city applications which the state of Georgia is showcasing as a vision of new ideas and technology to transform transport systems. Wheelright is being installed at The Ray’s visitor information centre.
Improved safety on US roads
Smart transport systems in the USA are expected to make significant reductions in the current death toll of around 35,000 people per year in the country and tyre condition is one factor that can easily be influenced by easily accessible information about tyre pressures and tread depths whilst on the move.
Nearly a quarter of a million vehicles visit the West Point Visitor Centre on The Ray every year and now they all have free access to the Wheelright system as well as freely available air to inflate tyres to the right pressure. By running at the right pressure, motorists can expect not only safer journeys, but also improved fuel economy and reduced maintenance requirements.
Commenting on the company’s latest installation on The Ray, Catling said, “The adoption of our tyre monitoring technology at The Ray opens it up to a completely new market of American motorists and help to reduce costs, accidents and carbon emissions.”
For the future, Wheelright is engaging with businesses, fleet operators and government bodies the world over about installing and rolling this technology out.
“Ultimately, WheelRight would like to see every vehicle on roads worldwide driving with the full complement of properly inflated tyres,” Catling concluded.
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