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Tires will be able to talk to other cars -- and the road

Tokyo Motor Show displays shape-shifting and light-reflecting treads

Sumitomo Rubber Industries President Ikuji Ikeda unveils its Smart Tire Concept -- a technology vision for a future automobile society -- on Oct. 26 in Tokyo's Koto Ward.

TOKYO -- With a price war looming for general-purpose tires, manufacturers around the world are racing to develop next-generation tires incorporating a range of new technologies.

At the Tokyo Motor Show underway at the Tokyo Big Sight convention center through Nov. 5, Yokohama Rubber is exhibiting a prototype tire with treads that contain fine glass beads that reflect light, making the tire more "detectable" at night or in bad weather.

More and more cars are being equipped with on-board sensors and cameras that control braking or manage the distance between vehicles. But the effectiveness of these functions tends to slip at night when black tires disappear into the darkness.

The visibility of tires will be even more crucial for safety in the age of connected cars, and Yokohama Rubber believes its new tire will help.

At the motor show, U.S.-based Goodyear Tire & Rubber is exhibiting a concept tire equipped with artificial intelligence. The Edge 360 is embedded with sensors that measure the surface of the road, from asphalt to dirt roads, in sunny, rainy or snowy weather. The onboard artificial-intelligence system then commands the tire to adjust its shape to best adapt to the road conditions that day.

Sumitomo Rubber Industries touts a new tire that can maintain its performance almost like new, even after five years. The company aims to start full production as early as 2020.

During an Oct. 26 news conference ahead of the opening of the Tokyo Motor Show, Sumitomo Rubber President Ikuji Ikeda said the company is seeking to develop tires that take environmental concerns and safety to the next level.

He unveiled the Smart Tire Concept, a technological vision of the future of automobile society, showcasing its long-lasting, high-performance tire as an example. The company says the tire's braking performance on wet roads will stay the same even after 20,000km.

Using its tire-wear simulation technology, the company has developed a tread that prevents wear from having a negative effect on braking performance. Molecular-level analysis of the rubber has helped adjust the amount of materials used in tires to minimize deterioration.

Even taking into account that a tire will degrade over time, its performance will stay unchanged for five years.

Reflective tires

Global tiremakers are rushing to develop next-generation tires as their emerging rivals increase their presence in the area of general-purpose tires for cars, trucks and buses. With the gap narrowing, a price war is inevitable.

Japanese, U.S. and European giants are faced with increasing competition from Hankook Tire of South Korea, and from Chinese makers that wield a price advantage.

The key to the manufacturers' survival lies in further enhancing their technological capabilities.

On Oct. 26, Bridgestone, the world's largest tiremaker, presented a plan to expand a technical center in the Tokyo suburb of Kodaira. The 30 billion yen ($264 million) project will add an innovation center bringing together researchers from industry, government and academia to develop new technologies, as well as a research facility to quickly bring ideas to fruition, and a digital simulation testing center.

The company will also establish a test track for real-world testing, and to differentiate itself from its rivals in research and development.

Continental of Germany is developing a technology capable of gauging tire wear and other conditions through the use of integrated sensors.

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