Aquaplaning is a dangerous condition when the tyres lose their grip on the surface of the road. This occurs when the water under the tyre cannot be expelled quickly enough so the tyre started to ‘ride’ on top of the water layer. It’s almost like driving on ice since the surface suddenly becomes smooth and without grip, the car will continue in the direction it is pointed even if the driver turns the steering wheel.

It’s a frightening condition that can catch even the most skilled drivers and can lead to accidents because, in most cases, the driver has not control over the car’s heading. The steering feel suddenly become light and turning it does not change the car’s direction at all.

It could then go into a drain, tree, lamp post… or across the road into other vehicles or pedestrians. There may have been many accidents caused by aquaplaning but the reason may not have been evident and concluded as just ‘skidding’ or ‘reckless driving’.

Unlike ABS, which can prevent the wheels sliding due to locking up when braking on a slippery surface, the solution to prevent aquaplaning has been difficult to find. Now Continental is working on an automatic system that can warn the driver of the risk of aquaplaning. The system uses camera data and tyre sensor data to detect impending aquaplaning situations. This means that drivers can be warned early and can then adjust their speed; a reduction in speed can help reduce aquaplaning.

The system will detect excessive water displacement through the images from surround-view cameras. These wide-angle cameras would be installed both in the side mirrors, the grille, and on the rear of the vehicles. “When there is a lot of water on the road, the camera images show a specific splash and spray pattern from the tyres that can be detected as aquaplaning in its early phase,” explained Bernd Hartmann, project manager at Continental.

In addition to the camera data, information from the tyres can also be used to identify the risk of aquaplaning. Thee accelerometer signal from the Continental’s electronic-Tyre Information System (eTIS) to look for a specific signal pattern. As the e-TIS sensor can also identify the tyre’s remaining tread, this data can be used to determine a safe speed for specific wet road conditions and recommend this to the driver.

“Even with the best tyres, sudden aquaplaning is always a frightening moment and can mean the danger of an accident. We are developing a high-performance technology based on sensor information and software that detects a potential risk of aquaplaning and warns the driver in time,” added Frank Jourdan, a member of the Continental Executive Board and Head of the Chassis & Safety division. He believes this new technology, which is currently in predevelopment, could be installed in a next generation of vehicles. The aquaplaning warning system will be especially important for automated vehicles because there won’t be a driver to monitor road conditions.

In relation to further research into the aquaplaning effect and the development of the aquaplaning warning system, Continental points to the importance of sufficient tread depth for road safety. As aquaplaning depends on the tread depth of the tyres, the depth of the water on the road and the driving speed, Continental recommends that tyres with a remaining tread depth of 3 mm be replaced with new ones. This is because the shallower the drainage channels are, the less water can be expelled from under the tyre.

Further in the future as vehicle-to-vehicle connectivity is more common, it will even be possible for information on a potential aquaplaning spot detected by one vehicle to be relayed to vehicles that are still far behind. The location could be shown on a digital map, thus alerting drivers even earlier.

[Chips Yap]

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