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How Goodyear is Challenging the Self-Driving Status Quo

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【Summary】Goodyear's new concept tires contain their own sensors, and that's going to force next-gen car makers to open up.

Original Aaron Phillips    Mar 17, 2017 3:45 PM PT
How Goodyear is Challenging the Self-Driving Status Quo

Earlier this March, Goodyear showed off some of their new concept tires that could be fitted on next-generation cars. So far most of the hype for these tires has been generated by their cutting-edge set of features, but the fact that they exist at all will be just as disruptive to the self-driving car industry.

Next-generation cars up to this point have been completely integrated. Their sensor packages are built by a variety of different chipmakers and hardware shops, but there isn't any support for third-party add-ons. Goodyear's line of concept tires are a great illustration of just why that will change.

Integrated vs. Modular

The integrated approach has some support for consumer electronics. Manufacturers like Apple have complete and total control over their hardware. iPhones and older Apple computers can't even be opened up by consumers, let alone upgraded. 

But cars have a much longer lifecycle than cell phones. Consumers are going to want to be able to upgrade them, or at the very least replace components as they fail.

That's where modular systems come in. 

Goodyear's new concept tires represent a sea of change for smart car manufacturers. At some point they're going to have to open up their integrated systems and build reliable ways for their hardware to talk to other components, like smart tires, which will have their own sensor packages. And they're going to have to do it in a standardized way. 

There are a few reasons why smart car manufacturers have taken this integrated approach up to now. 

tire_2.jpg

Goodyear's new concept tires contain their own sensor array

The biggest is the way that California has mandated road testing. There are no incentives for carmakers to use a modular approach. It's hard enough for manufacturers to test their own systems, let alone enable communication with dozens of different accessories -- each sporting their own unique array of sensors. Third-party sensors would complicate the reporting requirements and testing process.

Another reason why next-gen carmakers haven't taken a modular approach probably has a lot to do with the overall competitiveness of the industry. Right now, manufacturers are keeping all of their hardware systems pretty well under wraps. 

But the largest factor has been a lack of third-party upgrades for self-driving cars. Goodyear's new tires are still a concept, but that's likely to change.

Modular Systems are Good for Consumers

The introduction of modular sensors like the kind in Goodyear's tires is a change that consumers should embrace. Desktop computers have proven that a modular approach to hardware drives prices down and allows for increased competition in the marketplace. 

Although Apple computers and devices are a great example of the reliability of integrated technology, their high prices and lower specs are a big weakness. 

The self-driving car market will probably make use of integrated sensors in fleet cars, since they're reliable and well-tested. Fleets usually have the budget to replace failed sensor packages with components of the same brand. They also have a responsibility to use components that have been tested to work with their self-driving car systems. 

But consumers are going to want to be able to upgrade their cars, replacing worn sensors with off-the-shelf equipment, and manufacturers need to start thinking about how to make that possible. 

Extending the desktop computer analogy, big corporations use standardized systems. Every computer is the same, which makes repairing them much simpler. Small businesses tend to use whatever is cheapest, replacing old components with off-the-shelf technology as needed.

Customers Like Customization

Depending on where you live in the country and the roads you drive on, you might choose to install winter tires that have cold weather sensor arrays customized to your conditions. 

For instance, Goodyear's concept tires have sensor packages installed. These sensors will likely be able to do things like monitor the outside temperature and adjust tire pressure as needed. Other sensors might monitor traction and adjust to icy conditions.

But the possibilities don't end with tires. It's easy to imagine smart shocks that regenerate the battery pack or provide a smoother ride in all conditions, compared to budget options with less variability. The customization extends to everything from smart fuel pumps to braking systems. Name a car part, and some consumers will want to control and customize it.

The reality is that people love to tinker with their cars, and smart car manufacturers are going to need to provide a way to let them do it. That means opening themselves up to modular systems, developing standards, and allowing accessories like Goodyear's smart tires to find their way to store shelves. 

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