September 24, 2013
The Future Of The Wheel, Or At Least The Tire
The first time I ever got a flat tire, I was on my way to work. It was just a little after four in the morning and I was heading to the hog farm I spent the summer of my 16th year working at. I made it there, pulled into the actual barn area, and started winding down the various gravel paths that took you to the various barns. Mine was one of the furthest back, so I had the farthest to drive. Along the way, I ran over a shattered glass bottle that someone had thrown out the window of the car and my tire split. I nearly lost control, careening dangerously close to what we called “the pit,” which was basically a giant waste storage area that somewhat resembled a lake. It would not have been the most pleasant, nor glamorous, way to die, and I am very glad I did not. I then had to walk the rest of the half-mile to the shed, ended up late for work, and had to have my car pulled out by a company truck – which they were not happy about – just to get the spare on. All in all, it was a bad start to what turned into a bad day. I have had four incidents of flat tires since then, and none of them have ever ended well.
Fortunately, flat tires may soon be a thing of the past. Earlier this year, the Hankook i-Flex was introduced at the International Motor Show. This rather strange looking wheel differs greatly from those rubber tires we have on our cars now in that the tire and the wheel are not separate, but are a single object. They are also air-less, meaning no more flat tires. This is hoped to reduce the number of traffic accidents on the road each year. The i-Flex is also more than 95 percent recyclable thanks to it being mostly made of a polyurethane synthetic composition. It is also said to improve fuel consumption, noise, and even shock absorbency when compared to normal tires. Hankook is not the only company interested in “future tires.” Other manufacturers like Michelin and Bridgestone are all working to produce next-generation tires that will compare to the i-Flex.
Unfortunately, the design is not flawless. At more than 50 miles per hour, the Michelin version of the i-Flex, called the “Tweel,” starts vibrating considerably, creating undo noise and also heat, which can damage the tire over long journeys. Still, it may not be too long before we no longer have to worry about changing out flat tires or storing spares or donuts in the trunk. Personally, I am looking forward to the day when truck trailers will not explode when I am following one, nearly sending me off the road. Not to mention the hope that I never again have another close encounter with the hog-farm “pitt.”
These wheel+tires are not the only new tires on the production line. Other designs for the future of tires include smart tires that are able to adapt to changing road conditions as you drive, self-inflating tires that will automatically seal and re-pressurize themselves in case of a flat, and other astounding innovations.
So, who says man cannot re-invent the wheel?
Image Credit: Hankook Tire