Automobile Tire Treads Technology
While "smart tires" that automatically measure pressure, wear and tear and tread depth are becoming more popular, there has not been much advancement in developing tools and techniques to measure already-installed tire treads through contactless means. Chinese researcher Shih Yen Huang has conducted several studies to find reliable methods for analyzing tread depth through non-contact technology, but we can only find two products in existence that actually successfully uses non-contact measurement and analysis of pre-installed tires.
Please read below for details of our findings for tire tread measurement technology, both in the research stage and real-life examples.
Tire tread research
Using a range of scholarly search engines and databases, we were only able to unearth five research studies focused on contactless tire tread measuring technology. Most have been lead by Shih Yen Huang, a Chinese researcher who has done much research and development in this area. Despite deep dive efforts, no other research appears to have been conducted in this area. While a preference for US scope was stated, no studies were available in the US, so we expanded our search worldwide.
1) Last year, Jih Kai Wang and Shih Yen Huang presented a paper at the 2017 IEEE International Conference on Mechatronics and Automation (ICMA) about using light-spot analysis to measure tread depth. While the abstract does not give us a great deal of information, the images show that this experiment used two cameras and a light spot. By measuring the shape of the spot, the researchers hope to gain an accurate reading of tread depth. While the results table shows some discrepancies, the researchers remain hopeful that this method could be refined to provide a non-contact way of measuring tread depth.
The full report is available for purchase for $33.
2) Shih-Yen Huang, Yen-Cheng Chen, Jih-Kai Wang published a paper for the 2016 International Symposium on Computer, Consumer and Control (IS3C) in China on, "Measurement of Tire Tread Depth with Image Triangulation". In this, they researched a prototype system that uses machine vision to measure tread depth. The aim was to develop a non-contact system that cuts down on manpower and improves convenience. The system is based on the Epipolar plane, using the distance between the camera and the tire to compute measurements. This prototype then uses an Android-based app to obtain and log the tread depth.
Only an abstract of this research is publicly available, but the full version can be purchased for $33. Some images from their research are also available here.
3) In 2015, Shih-Yen Huang worked with You-Jyun Syu and Wen-Yuan Chen to examine the possibility of measuring tread depth via "skeletonizing of the smooth region (ETUS)...to overcome the weakness of the texture-based region of interest (TBRI) algorithm."
While results and conclusions of this tested method are not available in the free abstract, the full research is available for purchase for $33.
4) Two years earlier (2014), Shih-Yen Huang worked on similar research (which likely lead to the development of #2) with You-Jyun Syu to develop an algorithm to evaluate the region of interest on the specific textures to examine the status of the tread "worn by Discriminative Robust Local Ternary Pattern (DRLTP)". Images of the process are available here, and the full report is purchasable for $33.
5) Even further back in 2011, Rong Bao Chen, Jing Tao, Wu Ting Fan and Jun Jie Zhang worked on researching different methods to analyze a tire from image processing. Whereas image processing had already been in use for a while, it could not measure tire abrasion. This paper explored using Tamura texture features to do so. The full version is available for purchase for $38.
Real life tire tread measurement examples
In addition to the limited scholarly research into non-contact tire tread measurement possibilities, there are also very few examples of this technology being used in the real world. As you already know, there are many devices already in use that are not contactless or involve loading whole tires into a scanning machine. There is also work in developing micro/nano sensors inside a tire itself that will deliver readings regarding wear and depth.
After deep dive searches through product databases, press releases and trade media, we could only find two actual products currently on the market that offer a fully contactless method for measuring tread depth on already-installed tires. We also found three additional patents for different devices proposing to solve this problem. Again, since the information on this was very limited, we widened our scope to worldwide for both products and patents.
1) There is currently a patent for a handheld laser measuring device. Filed in 2014 and currently held by Tire Profiles Mobility, the device can attach to a glove or be held in the hand to scan the tire's profile. It then transmits to a close-by control box that then uploads the data to a remote server to determine tire wear patterns, tread depth and wheel alignment. A smartphone app then retrieves the information for local use.
The actual laser measuring is done by two triangulation laser sensors. It works by, "[the] two laser distance sensors are moved across a tire profile and the distance measured is recorded. As they are moved across the profile, each sensor reaches a surface feature at different times. That time differential can be measured. If the distance between sensors is known, the instantaneous velocity of the sensors can be calculated at each feature: at the beginning of the tire, at every groove."
This product is now in commercial production, called the GrooveGlove.
2) Hunter Engineering Company has a patent from 2013 for a system to analyze tire and wheel assembly images to identify tread wear characteristics. The system will then highlight 'problem' areas to the technician, who can analyze the tire area further. This patent is primarily concerned with the imaging system rather than the actual scanning device. The filing does state that an imaging sensor or camera could be used to obtain the relevant image.
At the moment, Hunter does not appear to market this product separately, but rather it is integrated into its current inspection products. Unfortunately, its only tire tread measuring system is drive-over. However, it does appear that the patented technology could be used on a handheld system similar to the GrooveGlove, above.
3) Snap-On has an older patent from 2004 for a contactless measuring system using a radiation emitter, detector and processing system to analyze geometrical information for condition analysis. While this system would not be handheld or portable, it is non-contact. The system will then analyze the data in the form of measurements and matching to a database of standards. Perusing their website, it appears this product was never developed for commercial sale.
4) Nascent Tech has a patent from 2011 for an image capturing system using at least one camera, a light source and receiver unit. The camera can capture the tires in-motion and then sends data to the unit, which will analyze the multiple pictures to inspect the tire condition. The tread photos are "analyzed using edge detection algorithms to generate a map of the tire tread or tread map which depicts the tread wear of the tire." One proposal on the patent was using geometric algorithms from OpenCV to perform edge detection. While this technology is contactless, it is neither highly portable nor handheld.
Nascent Tech's system is called the Tire Inspection Portal and is available for commercial sale.
5) Filed in 2017, Pre-Chasm Research has a patent for a highly useful and portable tire analysis system. This system uses actual images taken from any device (including portable or smartphone cameras) to determine tread depth and tire condition. They propose that the images captured can be analyzed to determine, trigonometrically, the relevant measurements. Additionally, the image(s) can be compared against a database to determine other indicators like pressure and wear. The system, or its resulting app, could even guide the user on what type of pictures to take, "specifying camera positions and orientation" especially if the exact positioning requires the lens to be able to see the bottom of tread grooves.
As per our searches, no app or other product appears to have been released yet as a result of this patent. However, with the patent being only a year old, there is significant promise for future developments.
To wrap it up, there is only limited development in the area of after-market tire tread measurement technology. While there have been advancements in pre-installed nano sensors in tires at the point of manufacture, only two products are commercially available that allow for the contactless evaluation of tire tread depth and wear. Furthermore, only one of these products is handheld and highly portable. To date, only five scholarly studies have been done into the measurement and analysis of tire treads from non-contact methods.