New tech uses smartphone to check tread depth

© E-Solution Professionals / Tirelabs

Technology that allows motorists to use a smartphone camera to determine tread depth is set to revolutionize tire management and make our roads safer.

E-Solution Professionals (ESP) has developed the Monocular Tread Depth Reader, which uses artificial intelligence to calculate tread depth from an image taken with a single-lens camera.

The technology is a breakthrough not only because accurate depth perception traditionally requires more than one camera but also because it’s difficult to train a computer to perceive depth easily. The Tirelabs’ technology used modern machine learning to develop neural networks that enable it to calculate depth from one view.

Developing and testing the tech

Taran Marley, head of Tirelabs (a division of E-Solution Professionals), said the technology would make maintenance tasks much easier and would have applications not just for industry and fleet management, but for ordinary motorists, too.

“It will mean being able to detect tire defects and low tread depth, and potentially – as we develop it – flat tires and bad alignment,” he said.

The Monocular Tread Depth Reader was developed with help from Precision Automotive Equipment Australia and uses Hunter Engineering’s Quick Tread Edge drive-over scanner with an integrated LPR camera. It’s currently being tested at a workshop owned by the Royal Automobile Club in Western Australia (RAC WA).

“To get what’s called ground truth data – or data that’s been checked and verified by a human – we have a person on-site at an RAC WA workshop,” Marley said.

“We collect several hundred images each week and have a field technician that takes the smartphone images and maps them to the images taken by the drive-over scanner.

“We’ve been able to develop this so quickly thanks to the great cooperation we’ve had from the RAC WA.”

Marley said the testing has shown the technology is reliable.

Tread depth tool an asset for tire shops

ESP’s central aim in creating the technology was to make it as simple as possible for people to test the tread depth of their tires, and to encourage them to visit their local tire shop and replace tires before their tread becomes dangerously low.

“We did some research where we asked people how they would know if their tires needed to be replaced,” Marley said. “At best, people would say that they would look at the tires and hazard a guess and they would take the vehicle to a tire shop if they were concerned.

“Not a single person in the group fully understood the legal requirement for their tires.”

“We also found people had a high resistance to calling into a tire store in person. They much preferred to go to the store’s online website. If the store did not have an online website, they would typically look for one that did.

“We decided there needed to be a way of using a readily available technology to understand the efficacy of tires and engage the user with the tire store that would remedy any needs.”

The road ahead

ESP will make its Monocular Tread Depth Reader available to the tire industry as a commercial product in May 2021.

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