Remember the old days, when your local mechanic simply rubbed his hand across your car tires to check for uneven wear? Well, things are about to get much easier for the tire guy.
In the not-too-distant future, RFID tags will alert drivers when a tire needs air or when a tread has become too worn for safety.
Michelin, the world's largest tire maker, says it has produced the first rewriteable, cured-in transponder that can store vital information. The RFID transponder, which is embedded into the tire during the manufacturing process, allows the tire's identification number to be tied to a vehicle identification number (VIN), making tires uniquely identifiable with an individual vehicle. The tags also store information such as when and where the tire was made and its maximum inflation pressure.
The day when your new SUV will roll off the floor with RFID-tagged tires is still a ways off, however. Tagging is still too expensive. The cost per tire has dropped to about 89 cents from $2.50 in the past year, but that's still too high to make tags standard on passenger vehicles.
For that to happen, tag prices will have to drop to about 40 cents per tire, says Pat King, the leader of global electronics strategies for Michelin. King is optimistic that tagmakers will be able to meet that price if there's enough demand for tags. "We think a lot of people will have to jump in the pool ... because of the need to defray some of the architectural costs," says King. "But I've seen quotes from [tag suppliers] that say if we can get an entire industry commitment, then 40 cents is [likely]."
In the meantime, companies like Michelin and Goodyear are busy producing RFID-tagged tires for commercial vehicles, like airplanes and fleet trucks. That should be a welcome development for fleet managers. Along with tracking and monitoring tire conditions, RFID tags promise to improve vehicle performance. The tags can sense road conditions and communicate the information to the vehicle's operating system, enabling it to make adjustments if needed. In addition, tagged tires reduce the need for inspections, saving maintenance crews hours of work.
Goodyear is also proving to be a pioneer when it comes to tires and RFID technology. The tire-maker is putting RFID tags on the Eagle tires it leases out to cars competing in NASCAR races. Goodyear says RFID is the quickest way to log in the thousands of new and used tires that must be returned at the end of a race before teams can depart the track.