Flat tires are a relatively insignificant car problem, but they are a common cause of distress for drivers. Glass, rocks, and other sharp objects often appear on the road, and it’s not always possible to stay out of harm’s way. All that time spent replacing tires could be a thing of the past, though, as some of the industry’s biggest names focus more and more on airless tires.
Initially a concept, these ‘non-pneumatic’ tires are on the rise with Global Market Insights forecasting “immense growth potential” to the airless tire market until 2024. Despite preventing frustrating punctures, these tires present plenty of challenges for developers. Let’s take a closer look at whether this is an auto industry breakthrough or just another idea full of hot air!
How these Radical New Tires Work without Needing an Air Pump
Air provides the rigid structure for a conventional tire by holding the side walls up and keeping the tread in contact with the road. In an airless tire the structure is provided by spokes, usually made from strong but flexible plastic. These spokes give the tire the leeway to absorb bumps on the road and are connected to an inner hub which then fits to the axle. Adapting the airless tire to a normal rim has been one of the many problems encountered by innovators.
If you encounter one of these tires after auto mechanic training, you’ll notice that the tread on the surface of the tire is similar to that of a normal tire. The side walls may, however, be exposed to allow air to freely flow in and out.
See airless tires in action in this short clip:
Students in Mechanic Courses Are Weighing Up the Pros and Cons of Airless Tires
The most obvious advantage of airless tires is the prevention of annoying punctures, which can also be dangerous in the case of blowouts. Drivers also won’t need to worry about carrying a spare tire in the trunk of their car. Leading tire developer Bridgestone also claims that the airless concept can lead to reduced CO2 emissions because of their low rolling resistance.
It’s not all a bed of roses, though. Airless tires continue to present a lot of problems, especially when driven at high speeds. Developers have recognized increased heat, vibrations, and noise which could be even more annoying than any potential puncture. The unique spoked design could also become problematic if the side walls aren’t sealed off. Road debris can become lodged in gaps and prevent the tire from absorbing bumps properly. Don’t forget about the cost, too! Michelin’s ‘Tweel’ airless tire design for utility vehicles has a target retail price of around $800 per tire.
The Leading Innovators and Likely Uses of this New Approach to Tire Building
Bridgestone, Michelin, and Hankook are among the leading developers of these airless tire designs, but plans to roll out these products for road cars still seem a while away. Based on the strengths and weaknesses they carry, these tires have much stronger potential for off-road vehicles which are exposed to damaging terrain while travelling at relatively low speeds. It seems that graduates from mechanic courses will be dealing with normal pneumatic tires for the foreseeable future.
There’s little doubt, however, that eco-friendly driving solutions are becoming a key focus for the auto industry. Goodyear’s airless tire concept, Oxygene, aims to take advantage of the spoked design by allowing living moss to grow inside. This attempt to reduce CO2 emissions through photosynthesis may not take off, but there’s no doubt that tire developers are thinking outside the box at the moment.
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