Tire giant Michelin Group is working on a “smart tire” that uses no air, is made of plant-based recyclable plastics and has 3-D printed treads that can be changed as road and weather changes demand.
Vehicles of the future will ride on such airless, one-piece tire-wheels with 3-D printable treads that can be changed en route to deal with weather and terrain changes and to provide customized comfort levels for vehicle passengers.
At least that’s the vision spelled out by tire giant Michelin.
While it sounds far-fetched, every aspect of the future tire is the focus of an active, on-going research and development project at Michelin Group, said Terry Gettys, executive vice president for research and development.
The tire-wheel combo, dubbed the “Visionary Concept,” is envisioned as an active player in the automated vehicle segment, Gettys told Trucks.com in an interview at Michelin’s “Movin’ On,” a global sustainable transportation conference being held in Montreal this week.
Michelin showed a prototype of the future tire at the conference, saying it underscored the company’s commitment to developing an integrated “systems solution for sustainable mobility.”
Optimizing the tire for automated vehicles – making it a critical part of the system – will include making it a “smart tire” that will communicate with the car and with a larger information network that will feed it weather and other conditions, Gettys said.
In a demonstration video, Michelin showed a couple leaving home for a trip to a mountain retreat in a self-driving car shod with the future tire. As they near the mountains, a screen on the car reports that there are approaching snowy conditions and suggests they switch to winter tires. The car pulls into a roadside tread printing station and a 3-D printer quickly lays a new, winter-tread design onto the tires to help ensure their safety while motoring on snow-covered roads.
The goal, said Gettys, is to perfect the tire for optimized ride comfort, safety, reliability and efficiency. Airless tires mean no flats, no down time and no repair costs. Additionally, the tires will be made of bio-based renewable plastics and will be fully recyclable, he said.
While it is unlikely that such a tire will be commercialized within the next five years, Gettys said, there’s little doubt at Michelin that it can be done.
Initially, the tires are being developed for passenger and light truck use – “because that’s 80 percent of the market,” he said. Michelin hasn’t examined the development of larger, stronger “future tires” for medium and even heavy-duty trucks, but that’s likely to follow, he suggested.