Always a leader in the world of automotive safety and technology, MINI has announced the development of a nighttime driver safety product that they feel will greatly reduce the nighttime accident rate and allow cars parked in dark areas to be located quickly.
Called the MINI Nighttime Luminous Safety Tyre (NLST), the new safety device will be offered as optional equipment on the new Countryman S, Clubman S and as standard equipment on MINI’s newest automotive product, the as yet unannounced MINI Nighthawk, a luxury 12-seat limousine, which will be built in conjunction with the Brazilian automaker, Empreendimentos Loucos, Ltd., and debut in 2013 (MC2 will be covering further developments on this story early next spring).
According to Vilhelm Ungesüßte-Kekse, marketing manager for MINI Special Projects, the NLST exceeds the Euro NCAP safety standards for 2013, which state that all vehicles manufactured after 1 April, 2013 must feature illuminated or reflective materials on the vehicle sides to improve nighttime safety for pedestrians and bicyclists.
“Our luminous tires exceed the new NCAP standard by a wide margin, said Ungesüßte- Kekse. “They not only glow out to the sides, but the tires are bright enough that ingress/ egress into the vehicle in the dark is now easy. Furthermore, in an emergency situation where the headlamps fail to light, the driver can see well enough from the light of the tires to drive in total darkness at speeds up to 25 mph. Plus, as the tires are also runflat design, drivers need never worry about nighttime blowouts on lonely country roads.” According to Ungesüßte-Kekse, the development team came up with the idea for nighttime glowing tires after reading an old issue of Life Magazine from 1961 that had an article on Goodyear Light-Tires.
“Of course, the problem with the Goodyear tires was that they used semi-transparent synthetic rubber and the glow was made from super bright light bulbs affixed to the inside of the rim,” says Dr. Hans Leuchtkäfer, head of BMW/MINI’s secret development department, the Abteilung von unechten Leistungen. “The safety issues of neon lightbulbs bursting inside the tires were huge, which is why Goodyear stopped the project.”
Leuchtkäfer says that the NLST solves the problem by using a blend of synthetic transparent rubber and luminescent neoprene, instead of light bulbs. The luminescence is activated by static electricity, so the tires glow as long as the vehicle is moving. However, should the driver not want the tires to glow for any reason, a grounding device, activated from a stalk on the steering column, cancels out the static charge. And, for nighttime parking in unlit lots and narrow alleys, a small, static storage battery located in the engine compartment, supplies the static charge to keep the tires lit for up to 12 hours.
“Upon seeing the technological and driver safety advantages of our latest development, it becomes immediately obvious why our work, and even our department, was hitherto unheard of,” says Leuchtkäfer. “Now, with the development work of MINI Nighttime
Luminous Safety Tyre being completed, we feel that making ourselves and the technology known is important.”
In fact, the company believes the work is so important for nighttime driver safety that they are giving away the technology for free to other automotive manufacturers and tire companies after they have had the product on the market for one year.
While it is too early to know if this latest safety device will spur a lot of interest with automotive enthusiasts, a number of European consumer safety groups have already endorsed the product. In fact, the European Union for Nocturnal Safety has issued a press release praising the new tires, but pointing out that they don’t go far enough.
“It’s all very well to have luminous tires to enhance nighttime safety, and we applaud MINI for its efforts,” said Jaqui Plaintes, managing director of the group. “However, these new tires do not meet NCAP safety requirements for 2016, which require all glowing vehicles to also emanate a chirping sound, so that blind people will know a car is crossing in front of them.”
Plaintes went on to point out that in the view of the European Union for Nocturnal Safety, what really is needed is the development of red/blue flashing tires for emergency vehicle use, as well as the eventual banning of nighttime driving of private vehicles.
From the staff of MC2 Magazine