Carmakers are racing to re-invent the wheel with smarter tyres

By DPA | 12 February 2018


Michelin's airless concept tyres are certainly weird: They come in psychedelic blue, with a spidery sponge-like form that makes them look like underwater corals.


BERLIN: Cars that drive or even fly themselves may be just around the corner. So why not reinvent the whole wheel and the tyre attached to it?

There is no law that says that car tyres have to be black all over and made of rubber compounds.

Leading tyre makers are working on some cool new tyre concepts which they say would provide a smoother and more comfortable ride. Some like Michelin of France and Japan's Bridgestone say tyres can even do without air too which would end the pain of punctures.

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Michelin's airless concept tyres are certainly weird: They come in psychedelic blue, with a spidery sponge-like form that makes them look like underwater corals.

Scientists say flexible structure like these using new high-tech materials can provide sufficient support for a vehicle's weight.

Synthetic elastomers to replace rubber are costly and difficult to produce, but makers are not content to draw up new tread designs or tinker with the molecular structure of the natural rubber used to make conventional tyres.

One of the most radical new ideas comes from a US company which recently unveiled a spherical tyre for the future. Goodyear is using a 3D printer its Akron-based innovation centre which involves a non-pneumatic tyre wrapped in thermoplastic.

Goodyear says its DuraWeb technology provides both stiffness and flexibility to carry heavy loads and maintain a smooth ride, unlike conventional tyres which are discarded when worn out, Goodyear's concept wheels can be recycled.

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Goodyear's futuristic concept is being tried out on lawn mowers to start and it will doubtless take a long time before its debuts on a road car.

Michelin, too, is thinking well into the future. The "Visionary Concept" introduced a few months ago is being produced using recycled materials in a 3D printer. It is designed to replace both the rim and the tyre at the same time. The tyre profile is also programmed in the 3D printer to suit its particular application.

The nature-inspired structures should be both stable and elastic, meaning that driving stability and comfort would be at the level of rubber tyres. Another advantage of an organic tyre is that, after its use, it can be processed and reused.

While these two designs offer radical rethinks of tyres, Pirelli and Continental are more likely to work on the evolution towards the future, proving a greater sense of the current reality.

Pirelli's Conesso is a smart tyre which can monitor vital tyre data and communicate this information to the driver using a smartphone app.

Sensors are built into the tyre sidewalls and these keep on a eye on air pressure, pressures, tread wear and the estimated remaining tyre life in kilometres.

The Connesso alerts the driver when tyre pressure drops or the tread wear limit is approaching and can swiftly identify the nearest tyre dealership. It can even book a service appointment. The system also works when the car is at rest.

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Continental's ContiSense and Contiadapt also use sensors to report on the status of tyres and can tailor their characteristics to suit prevailing road conditions.

Tyre data is monitored constantly and if a tyre is penetrated, the driver gets an immediate warning. Hannover-based Conti says the acts more quickly than rivals, which generally only warn when tyre pressure is already falling.

Contiadapt tyres feature three different tread zones, tailored for driving in wet, slippery or dry conditions. The zone is the major contact point between the vehicle and the road surface.

Tyre pressure and rim width and grip level are varied by ContiAdapt which has its own mini-compressor for inflation and deflation. It also chooses the right tread pattern for current road conditions.

Spherical tyres from Goodyear or the sponges from Michelin are a long way down the road but the ideas from Pirelli and Continental could soon find their way into cars in the local dealer showroom. Conti expects its high-tech tyres to be available within five years.


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