Shaping the Future of Tires

future tiresAs the automotive industry develops groundbreaking technologies like high-performance electric vehicles and self-driving cars, companies like Goodyear and Michelin are striving to create innovative tires that will allow those new vehicles to perform at their full potential. These tires of the future come in different shapes and materials, and some even have the ability to adapt their tread to changing road conditions.

For instance, at the Geneva International Motor Show in 2016, Goodyear presented a concept tire whose shape grabbed a whole lot of attention. That’s because the Goodyear Eagle-360 is a sphere! Able to turn in any direction, these spherical tires could allow cars to parallel park by simply rolling sideways into the spot. At speed, they offer better road contact and better handling.

Of course, there are two big problems with tires like these. First, there’s no way to attach an omnidirectional spinning sphere to a car without limiting the tire’s ability to turn. But what Goodyear is imagining for the car of the future is an electric-powered vehicle that uses magnetic levitation (MagLev) technology. Essentially, the car would hover over the tires, allowing them to spin freely in all directions.

The second problem is that controlling four omnidirectional spheres would be too complex for a human driver. But again, here’s where these tires are uniquely designed for the cars of the future. The AI controller of a self-driving car can precisely control each of those tires individually, thus allowing both the car and the tires to achieve their full potential.

Another futuristic aspect of the Goodyear Eagle-360 tires is that they contain sensors that not only inform the car’s AI about the road conditions, but also allow the AI to transmit information to nearby self-driving cars, so that they can prepare for changing conditions ahead. That can make everybody safer on wet or icy roads.

The Goodyear Eagle-360’s tread is also designed to adapt to wet or dry conditions in order to enhance safety and handling. Designed to mimic brain coral, the tread can absorb water and soften, providing stronger grip in wet conditions. When it dries, the tread stiffens again, improving handling.

Taking this idea of adaptable tread a step further, Michelin is also developing a tire of the future. Michelin’s Vision concept tire consists of a permanent underlying structure on which tread can be 3-D printed and reprinted. In other words, instead of changing out regular tires for snow tires, you’d simply drive down to a 3-D printing station and have snow treads printed onto your existing tires!

Michelin’s Vision concept tire is also innovative in other ways. It’s airless, so you never have to worry about getting a flat. It incorporates RFID sensors that help the AI better control a self-driving car. Shaped like a disc rather than a doughnut, the Vision takes the place of both the traditional tire and the wheel.

And the Vision is made from recycled and biodegradable materials such as paper, tin cans, plastic waste, and even orange zest! (No word yet on whether it will smell like oranges when you’re driving down the street but we can hope.) According to Andrew Hawkins of The Verge, about 70% of tires currently being produced are not biodegradable and will sit in landfills forever, so creating more biodegradable tires could be very helpful to the future of the environment as well.

Another company working to produce tires from non-traditional materials is Amerityre. Although they may not be as well-known as Michelin and Goodyear, this small company has made what could be a major breakthrough in the development of the tires of the future. For decades, tire manufacturers have tried to find a way to make durable, high-performing tires out of polyurethane instead of rubber.

That’s because rubber tires are notoriously difficult and time-consuming to produce, as well as having problems like dry rot. But no one had been able to come up with a formulation of polyurethane that performed as well as rubber tires. Amerityre’s CEO claims that they have finally done it.

If Amerityre’s performance claims hold up in further testing, these tires of the future may become the tires of today. Polyurethane tires should be longer-lasting than rubber tires due to the inherent chemical qualities of the materials. And polyurethane tires will be much faster and significantly less expensive to produce than rubber tires, which will hopefully result in big savings for consumers.

Tires may not be the most glamorous part of a car, but they are where the rubber (or polyurethane, or orange zest) meets the road. Innovations in tire technology are an important, if often overlooked, part of building the cars of the future.