The aqua­plan­ing warn­ing sys­tem

Wet weather al­ways brings added risk to our roads, but one com­pany is devel­op­ing a sys­tem that will make driv­ing in the rain that bit safer, as Chris Randall re­veals here.

Car Mechanics (UK) - - Contents -

If you spend any time driv­ing on dual car­riage­ways or mo­tor­ways, chances are you’ll have en­coun­tered bad weather and with it the risk of aqua­plan­ing. Hit­ting a patch of stand­ing wa­ter, there’s that mo­men­tary feel­ing of light­ness at the steer­ing wheel, per­haps ac­com­pa­nied by a slight pull to one side. It can be pretty scary when it hap­pens at speed.

Aqua­plan­ing oc­curs when a layer of wa­ter builds up between the tyre and the road sur­face, mean­ing proper con­tact between the two is lost, and it can be gen­er­ated by just a few mil­lime­tres of wa­ter. Add ex­ces­sive speed and tyres with low tread depth into the equa­tion and loss of con­trol can re­sult, which ex­plains why many mo­tor­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions and tyre man­u­fac­tur­ers ad­vo­cate re­plac­ing tyres when there is 3mm of tread re­main­ing, rather than the le­gal limit of 1.6mm.

It’s a sen­si­ble pol­icy, but fur­ther as­sis­tance could be on the way be­cause April 2018 saw tyre gi­ant Con­ti­nen­tal an­nounce it was work­ing on an Aqua­plan­ing Warn­ing Sys­tem to alert driv­ers to the risk of ac­ci­dents. As Frank Jour­dan, head of Con­ti­nen­tal’s chas­sis and safety divi­sion, ex­plains: “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.”

Al­though Con­ti­nen­tal’s Europe-based en­gi­neers are cur­rently work­ing on the hard­ware and soft­ware, they ad­mit it is still early days for the tech­nol­ogy and that we aren’t likely to see a func­tional sys­tem un­til the next gen­er­a­tion of ve­hi­cles. But it’s a promis­ing start and any­thing that makes driv­ing safer is some­thing we very much wel­come.

How the sys­tem works

It turns out that there are two pri­mary el­e­ments to the tech­nol­ogy. The first in­volves the use of care­fully-po­si­tioned cam­eras that can de­tect ex­ces­sive wa­ter dis­place­ment. The im­ages are gen­er­ated by the wide-an­gle, sur­round-view cam­eras that some ve­hi­cles al­ready utilise as part of a 360° view sys­tem, with those mounted in the side mir­rors recog­nis­ing a spe­cific splash and spray pat­tern from the tyre. Com­plex com­puter al­go­rithms process the im­ages and, when they de­tect a pat­tern that ex­ceeds pre-de­ter­mined cri­te­ria, con­trol elec­tron­ics that recog­nise this as the be­gin­nings of aqua­plan­ing and alert the driver ac­cord­ingly.

How­ever, there’s a sec­ond layer of in­for­ma­tion be­ing fed to the com­puter that comes from sen­sors within the tyres them­selves. Dubbed the elec­tronic Tyre In­for­ma­tion Sys­tem (ETIS) by Con­ti­nen­tal en­gi­neers, the sen­sors mon­i­tor not only tyre pres­sure and tem­per­a­ture, but also the cen­trifu­gal ac­cel­er­a­tion of the rolling tyre. When wa­ter builds up in front of the tyre, lead­ing to aqua­plan­ing, it causes an os­cil­la­tion in the sen­sor sig­nal that’s not present on a nor­mal dry or wet road, with the com­put­ers recog­nis­ing this change in the sig­nal. The sen­sors also col­lect in­for­ma­tion on the rolling char­ac­ter­is­tics of the tyres over time, and com­par­ing this with stored data can de­ter­mine the amount of tread re­main­ing.

Com­bin­ing all of this in­for­ma­tion with the im­ages from the on-board cam­eras, the warn­ing sys­tem can not only alert the driver to the risk of aqua­plan­ing, but also rec­om­mend a safe speed for any given wet road. It’s easy to see such a sys­tem could be of huge ben­e­fit in to­day’s driv­ing, but as Con­ti­nen­tal them­selves point out, the Aqua­plan­ing Warn­ing Sys­tem could also play a key role as the fu­ture of the car de­vel­ops.

One of the tech­nolo­gies be­ing ex­plored by car-mak­ers is ve­hi­cle-to-ve­hi­cle com­mu­ni­ca­tions (V2V), where all man­ner of in­for­ma­tion can be shared between cars in a bid to im­prove traf­fic flow and re­duce ac­ci­dents. Be­ing able to warn fol­low­ing mo­torists of an aqua­plan­ing risk up ahead has ob­vi­ous ben­e­fits. And it’s hardly a stretch to see how such com­mu­ni­ca­tions could be shared with wider traf­fic con­trol sys­tems, al­low­ing the au­thor­i­ties to al­ter speed lim­its and post warn­ing signs ap­pro­pri­ately.

Then there’s the seem­ingly end­less rush to de­velop au­tonomous ve­hi­cles. A di­vi­sive sub­ject it may be, but there’s no doubt that a greater level of au­ton­omy will be a part of fu­ture mo­tor­ing. With­out a driver to re­act to chang­ing road sit­u­a­tions, hav­ing a sys­tem that can de­tect some­thing like aqua­plan­ing is likely to prove cru­cial when it comes to the safe op­er­a­tion of such ve­hi­cles.

Test­ing of the Aqua­plan­ing Warn­ing Sys­tem be­gan in 2017 and early eval­u­a­tion looks promis­ing, so Con­ti­nen­tal is aim­ing for fur­ther de­vel­op­ment in 2019.

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