Few things annoy drivers more than having to stop in the middle of the road to change a flat tyre, but owing to new technologies tyre manufacturers are creating, that may soon become a distant memory.
“Run-flat” tyres are already widely used. The extremely rigid sidewalls of a tyre allow a vehicle to continue driving for up to 50 miles even if it experiences all but the most catastrophic collapse.
Alternatives include tyres that can self-seal after a nail punctures the tread, a gooey fluid running around the leak to seal it off. Continental is a German tyre manufacturer. Initial signs of a problem may go unnoticed by a driver, but the business predicts that a more extensive fix will eventually be required.
Hankook, Pirelli, and Michelin are three other tyre manufacturers that have introduced self-sealing tyres. The French company’s Primacy type will be available as a factory option on the 2020 Ford Explorer.
The first functional pneumatic tyre was created by John Boyd Dunlop in 1887, and since then tyre producers have been searching for solutions to stop blowouts and flats. Recently, Michelin unveiled a concept called Uptis that doesn’t require any inflation at all. It is being tested as part of an initiative with General Motors, and the two parties hope to start selling it in 2024.
Many other manufacturers are testing their own airless designs, including Bridgestone, the biggest tyre manufacturer in Japan.
However, this is only the beginning of the significant adjustments that could soon literally transform the tyres on your automobile in order to produce improvements in safety, performance, fuel efficiency, comfort, durability, and the industry’s environmental effect. This includes tyres that can “speak,” such as alerting the driver when they detect black ice or even changing their form to increase traction.
3D printed tyre
Additionally, it might not be long before you can have the treads on your tyres changed; 3D printers can create replacements specifically for winter, summer, or even track use.
At the company’s Movin’On Summit, an annual conference examining emerging transportation trends, Michelin CEO Florent Menegaux stated in an interview conducted in June in Montreal, “Long-term, our researchers will have to turn upside-down everything we know.”
The hunt for substitutes for natural rubber, which has been utilised since since Charles Goodyear developed vulcanization, a method that renders it stable, in 1844, is one of the most important issues.
That is a significant issue. For starters, according to Michael Martini, a chemist and longtime industry veteran who recently left his position as president of original equipment consumer operations at Bridgestone Americas, “The problem is that the industry is growing so rapidly, building (over 80) million cars a year now, that keeping up is a problem.”
It takes seven years for a rubber plant to generate the raw material, sometimes referred to as caoutchouc or India Rubber, that can be harvested.
There is also the issue of recycling, though. Industry statistics show that roughly 200 million tyres are thrown away globally each year. Most are transferred to dumps and landfills, where they are frequently stacked up and serve as breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other insects, occasionally catching fire and emitting noxious plumes of smoke. While some are reused, the process is complex and expensive, so the majority are sent there.
Menegaux stated that Michelin has an aim of using other, more environmentally friendly materials in place of 80% of the rubber it currently uses. And it’s not alone. Ironically, what most people consider to be an environmental annoyance can actually be the more environmentally responsible option.
According to a statement from Continental, “most people consider dandelions as an annoyance,” but experts at the German corporation “embrace the blossoming weed as a critical component to the future of tyres.”
Taraxagum, a rubber substitute being developed by Continental, might go into production in five to ten years. As many as 1,200 different plant species can provide the material, but the Russian dandelion, which grows in less than a year, is what experts are most interested in.
Safety is paramount, and slow air leaks and underinflated tyres can be fatal. This is related to the Ford Explorer rollover issue from 20 years ago, which is said to have caused 280 fatalities.
Levitation using magnets
The Goodyear Eagle 360 Urban is an even more radical idea; it is as spherical as a beach ball and is attached to the vehicle via “magnetic levitation, which suspends the tyre from the car by magnetic fields,” as the firm puts it. Artificial intelligence is also utilised “to sense, determine, transform, and interact.”
According to Goodyear, the tire’s bionic skin, which is made of a super-elastic polymer, is flexible like human skin and can expand and shrink. Re-shape the individual tyre tread sections like human muscles by adding “dimples” for slick circumstances or smoothing the tread for dry conditions.
Bridgestone’s Blizzak tyre significantly enhances handling and braking on ice by combining microscopic gaps with studs. The freshly released QuietTrack tyre from a Japanese business combines new rubber compounds with a unique tread design to significantly minimise road noise. Tire noise, which is typically not noticed by drivers over the sound of an internal combustion engine, becomes a big annoyance in an otherwise silent electric vehicle.
Other changes are likely to be seen by modern drivers. Since many automakers prefer kits that can be used to temporarily seal all but the most severe breakdowns, full-size spare tyres are now extremely rare, and even mini-spares are vanishing.