MegaRide, a spin-off of the Federico II University of Naples, has in turn created a spin-off, VESevo (acronym for Viscoelasticity Evaluation System Evolved), which produces a measuring device for analyzing the mechanical properties of compounds of the tires. First application: the motorsport field.
From performance to safety, the hi-tech tire is the pivot on which the future of the connected and automated car revolves. The intuition comes from MegaRide, a spin-off of the Federico II University of Naples that develops algorithms for tire control. Tires “are not a tuning object, but an actual subcomponent,” says co-founder and CTO Aleksandr Sakhnevych. “They literally form the basis of the vehicle and their characterization is fundamental”.
If the sub-components of the car are characterized with precise metrics, and modeled with mathematical formulations capable of faithfully representing reality, digital duplicates can be built on which to iterate the prototyping and development phases, reducing the number of physical prototypes required, and minimizing development times and associated costs. The same models created in this way can be used to analyze the behavior of the tires in every potential operating condition of the vehicle, making it possible to prototype the control logics aimed at optimizing the performance and safety of the vehicle already in simulation, Sakhnevych explained to us.
Over time, MegaRide has further expanded its offer, creating the spin-off VESevo (acronym for Viscoelasticity Evaluation System Evolved), which produces a measuring device for analyzing the mechanical properties of tire compounds. The accuracy and the advantages offered by the non-destructive technique developed are such that VESevo has already been adopted by several teams in Formula 1, Formula E, MotoGP and Nascar. “With research and development acting as a link between MegaRide, academia and the industrial hub, all in a virtuous exchange, we continue to solve technological problems with an eye to the diffusion of technologies associated with smart roads and driverless cars. In fact, the same ones – Sakhnevych clarifies – remain our point of arrival”.
MegaRide was born from the need to faithfully reproduce the behavior of tires in a simulation environment, with particular regard to the motor racing sector. In detail, starting from the research of the Mechanics Applied to Machines group of the Federico II University, the three partners, researchers and university professors, Francesco Timpone, Flavio Farroni and Aleksandr Sakhnevych, founded MegaRide in 2016. And indeed, thanks to the know-how and the academic network, the university spin-off began to invoice from day one and attracted clients of the caliber of Ferrari and Ducati. The company, which won the 2020 edition of the Italian Master Startup Award, is now a scaleup with revenues that continue to grow by double digits (+65% in 2022).
“With MegaRide we have condensed the physics of the tire into an efficient mathematical formulation, capable of translating the characteristics of the tires into digital language and faithfully simulating the vehicle’s contact with the road,” explains Sakhnevych. “This makes it possible to predict and govern the behavior of the tire and of the entire vehicle both in the physiological and pathological phases of its use”
The intuition of VESevo
VESevo represents a further step in the research of MegaRide and the Vehicle Dynamics group of the Department of Industrial Engineering of the Federico II University. The spin-off uses a combination of patented hardware and software which collects information on the mechanical characteristics of the tread and, through a specially developed algorithm, allows technicians to obtain a reliable and instantaneous measurement of the viscoelastic properties of the compound through non-destructive testing.
“Tires are the only point of contact between the vehicle and the road surface and in this confined space many physical and chemical phenomena take place that influence the behavior of the vehicle,” says Sakhnevych. “VESevo is proposed as the only system that allows to analyze the state of viscoelastic materials, including tires, making it possible to predict their behavior and analyze their evolution over time, without damaging them and without altering their physical and chemical characteristics”.
The VESevo technology had its first application in the motorsport field, where the behavior of the tires can vary significantly in a short period of time.
“When teams receive tires from manufacturers, they don’t have detailed information,” explains Sakhnevych, “so the tire maker remains neutral. Our technology, patented since 2018, photographs the viscoelastic nature of the compounds, objectively measuring their parameters and facilitating the exploitation of their properties in the temperature window of the tire in the race; both in order to promote performance and, at the same time, govern the phenomenon of degradation and wear. VESevo has filled a gap in the market, so much so that it is now adopted by racing teams all over the world, from MotoGP to Formula E, 1 and 2, to Nascar up to the world of rallying. Furthermore, it is a product that is also aimed at tire manufacturers and industries that use viscoelastic materials, who will be able to benefit from the monitoring of the characteristics of the materials along the production lines in order to optimize production processes, minimize waste and ensure greater sustainability of its products”.
In recent times, MegaRide has begun to adapt and make its tire-based solutions available to the embedded technologies of the automotive sector, capable of using the sensors installed by default on board the vehicles in order to obtain a realistic estimate of the state of the vehicle, tire and roadbed. Us ordinary drivers can also benefit from it: the embedded solution of this type could warn the driver about the conditions of the asphalt (snow, ice, oil on the road, slippery ground…) and, in the future, warn the entire V2X infrastructure, while favoring minimizing the energy consumption of fleets and maximizing the efficiency of smart cities. After all, the real point of arrival of the ventures born from the research of the Federico II University is precisely the driveless.
The value of the tech exchange
The technology transfer from the University remains the first trump card of MegaRide and VESevo. Indeed, Sakhnevych prefers to speak of technological exchange, a two-way exchange between university and industry with which the world of research transforms its discoveries into applications for the market and companies stimulate new discoveries by presenting their needs.
“As we continue R&D, we act as a liaison between research and industry,” explains the CTO of MegaRide. “For example, MegaRide finances doctorates and research agreements to explore specific prospective issues on the basis of requests made by companies; trains trainees and graduate students from Italy and abroad; finally, through the data collected with the VESevo hardware, also used in Formula 1, well hidden in the paddocks, it carries out a field investigation alongside the manufacturers, applying our products and at the same time stimulating new advances”.
The secret of success also lies in the choice of the C/C++ language to write the product codes, “a simple and effective language, usable without reconversions in most development environments and required applications, starting from the most advanced driving simulators and from the calculation stations of the technicians, up to the embedded applications on board the vehicle, which has allowed us to create an always valid foundation on which to evolve our technology”, says Sakhnevych.
Towards autonomous driving
The participation of MegaRide in the Indy Autonomous Challenge 2022 driverless car race alongside the Euroracing team promoted by the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia is part of the research-industry virtuous circle. The Euroracing team, led by Professor Marko Bertogna, and which finished second, brought together researchers from various Italian and European universities. Through its spin-off HiPeRT, UniMoRe has in fact contributed with the expertise on autonomous driving, while the University of Pisa has brought the knowledge accumulated in participations in the RoboRace. The Swiss ETH participated in the development of the driverless vehicle, while the Polish Academy of Sciences provided its know-how on neural networks for real-time perception. MegaRide has put its technologies into it for optimizing the car’s dynamic performance, especially as regards the interaction between tires, car and road surface.
In the next Formula E season, Sakhnevych announces, MegaRide will work with two teams (names still top secret). In the meantime, the technical partnership with the unmanned car of the University of Modena continues and participates in the development of technologies that make vehicles and infrastructures dialogue, another fundamental step in the development of autonomous driving.