If you know anything about car tyres, you'll know that it's all about the contact patch: the more rubber that meets the road, the better grip you'll have — in perfect driving circumstances, of course. But there are times you'd actually want less grip, like efficient highway driving (or maybe ripping some skids, we won't judge) — and Continental has a tyre concept that can adjust itself to suit the weather conditions and your driving intentions.
The new Continental ContiAdapt concept is a smart wheel which can change between four different pre-set widths, each of which suit wet, uneven, slippery and normal road conditions. "Micro-compressors" in each wheel expand or contract the variable width rim to suit the driving conditions — normal road conditions call for a small contact patch and high tyre pressure, where a larger contact patch and lower pressure means more grip for slippery conditions. The system, Continental says, "can thus modify the size of the contact patch — which under different road conditions is a decisive factor for both safety and comfort."
That concept tech sits well with the other announcement from Continental: a similar future tyre called ContiSense, with tech that monitors the tyre's own condition and reports that info. "Rubber-based sensors continuously monitor both tread depth and temperature. If the measured values are above or below predefined limits, the system at once alerts the driver. If anything penetrates the tread, a circuit in the tire is closed, also triggering an immediate warning for the driver – faster than the systems used to date, which only warn the driver when the tire pressure has already begun to fall." In the future, Continental says, this high-tech tyre could deliver road information like the presence of snow or of the road temperature to drivers or the car itself.
Both are tied up together, as you'd expect, in a new concept tyre. You'd get the advantages of each individually with a regular tyre, but this new concept has a variable tread design — stretch it out further and you'll access extra high-grip tread, for example. The tyre and rim combo of the future could adapt to your driving style and the road conditions just like traction and stability control systems already do. "The tire design features three different tread zones for driving on wet, slippery or dry surfaces. Depending on the tire pressure and rim width, different tread zones are activated and the concept tire adopts the required 'footprint' in each case."[Continental]