Nexteer, Tactile Mobility partner to help cars detect road conditions

A new software stack developed by steering supplier Nexteer Automotive and Israeli tech startup Tactile Mobility allows vehicles to get a better “feel of the road” in hazardous conditions — and even to detect the health of a tire.

The software is integrated into a vehicle’s steering system to instantly detect when the tires have contacted an icy patch of road highway. The vehicle then converts road surface information into data that the vehicle “interprets and assigns to various road-condition scenarios,” according to the companies.

Detecting a change in conditions, the software could instruct an adaptive cruise control system to increase the distance between the vehicle and the one in front of it, according to the companies.

“We are providing the car the ability to sense the road itself,” Shahar Bin-Nun, CEO of Tactile Mobility, told Automotive News. “It’s all about understanding the micro-slips and the dynamics between the surface and the car and deriving all of this information.”

The software has potential use in advanced driver-assistance systems as well as future autonomous vehicles as they move with less human-driver input.

The system has drawn interest from automakers because it is based entirely on software, said Joe Klesing, Nexteer’s product line executive for software.

“We’re not adding any additional hardware or anything like that,” he said. “That’s attractive for OEMs because there aren’t additional hardware costs, and it can work within the existing electronics platforms they have.”

The virtual sensors and algorithms developed by Tactile Mobility can be integrated into the electric power steering systems and software developed by Nexteer, meaning no additional parts or physical sensors are required.

The innovation comes about a year after Nexteer invested in Tactile Mobility, an Israeli startup founded in 2012. The company’s software, which is in use on BMW production models, collects data from built-in vehicle sensors on everything from gear position to wheel angle from vehicles’ built-in sensors.

The new development gives Nexteer the ability to introduce new features to help a driver make decisions when approaching a hazardous stretch of a roadway, Klesing said.

“It can help us build apps to [help] the driver do the right thing before hitting those icy spots,” he said. “We keep the driver safer while preventing an information overload.”

Nexteer said the software was developed through machine learning by identifying patterns in road surface and tire detection data from more than 20 million miles of driving.

“As the system gets in production and data is collected and available, our customers are getting more ideas about what you can do and what services and functions you can offer,” he said.

Klesing and Bin-Nun both touted the system’s ability to assist with autonomous-driving functions in the future. “Autonomous vehicles rely on vision, and rightfully so. But it’s simply not enough,” Bin-Nun said. “For autonomous vehicles, we believe it’s a must-have.”

The system also monitors tires for tread depth and other issues, alerting the driver when it’s time for a replacement.

Klesing said Nexteer and Tactile Mobility have also drawn interest from municipal governments that see the availability of real-time road data helping them with road maintenance and salting operations.

“There’s a benefit here,” Klesing said, “beyond just the driver and other drivers on the road.”

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