Hankook’s Hexonic Concept Tire

It’s just a matter of time until fully autonomous, self-driving automobiles become a fixture in our transportation reality.

Some of the real-world examples that are reportedly final impediments to full autonomy include left turns with oncoming traffic, merging, and unusually stopped traffic, e.g., a line of cars turning into a parking lot.

These issues have to do with mastering prediction, comprehension, decision making, and essentially taking over the human element, including discretion.

Maybe it’s because so much autonomous vehicle testing is done in temperate Silicon Valley that the weather element doesn’t get much coverage. But for those who often face slippery, wet and/or wintry roads, the prospect of autonomous driving brings to mind a particularly difficult challenge — how will my self-driving car know how to appropriately read, react, and adjust to variable road conditions and traction variances?

It’s one thing to navigate highway on and off ramps, manage stoplights, successfully maneuver around cars, and halt for pedestrians. But will autonomy be able to sense on the nuances of rapidly changing road conditions? What about when wintry conditions wreak havoc on certain vehicle cameras and sensors?

Hankook Tire has been selected as the “Finalist” in the automotive and transportation category at the International Design Excellence Awards 2019, a world-class design competition, for its concept tire “Hexonic.” – HankookTire.com

Hankook’s Hexonic “smart tire” is a glimpse into a probable solution to this particular autonomous driving problem. To adeptly react to changing weather and variable road conditions, autonomous vehicles will rely upon the components on the “front lines” of those changing conditions, the tires.

The Hexonic tire incorporates a series of sensors that can read and react to changing road conditions, plus take into account traction variables like temperature and surface grip.

In wet road conditions, for example, where water evacuation is critical to counteract hydroplaning, the Hexonic tread features modules that can split a “hidden zigzag groove” and create wider channels for standing water.

In dry conditions where extra tread footprint (contact patch) would be advantageous to cornering performance and overall grip, certain gaps in the tire tread are closed off by “ejective blocks.”

It’s not a stretch to think the information gathered by smart tires will be transmitted in real-time to the autonomous driving car, too, prompting certain autonomous driving adjustments for optimum control and safety.

And so, the greatest development in automotive transportation history may very well hinge upon complementary tire technology to really seal the deal.

Tires are an oft-underrated, critical element to road safety, especially when it comes to achieving sufficient traction in inclement conditions. With the human element being removed from the inclement condition driving equation, tires stand to become an even more pivotal element in the self-driving safety equation.

If the Hankook Hexonic comes to pass, tires will become components of both real-time information and active control.

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