Airless and smart tires are highly discussed topics in the automotive world. It seems that they are increasingly overshadowing the traditional tires, which already no longer impress with almost anything new.
The tire industry becoming technological is a phenomenon as natural as possible, and extremely expected. Along with the advancement of bodywork and the computerization of the most complex systems in the vehicle, tires seem to be unable to keep up. And even if now a very strong emphasis is placed on air-free tires, attempts to create them took place many years ago.
Let's delve deeper into this futuristic topic. Today I want to share with you everything I know about the future of tires. What do airless tires mean? How to decipher the acronym SMART? How close is the future of tires? We are going to find it all out in this article.
Let's start with definitions
What do airless tires mean, actually?
There are quite complex definitions for this term, but I like keeping things simple. To be clear to everyone, airless tires are those that have no air in them at all and are not at all dependent on the pressure in them. At the moment, this type of tire is mainly coupled with small transport constructions (such as golf carts) or on massive low-speed equipment. Their adaptation for passenger vehicles is still under development.
Airless tires can be made of plastic or solid rubber if we are talking about those for small or off-road constructions. Brands such as Michelin that design airless tires for passenger cars use a heavy gauge rigid steel hub that, with the help of deformable, flexible, and high-strength poly-resin spokes and a rubber tread band, connects to a shear beam.
What do SMART tires refer to?
SMART tires are also tireless tires that seem to be the potential alternative to regular tires in the coming years. These tires are produced through an ultra-modernized technology that was taken over from NASA. Initially, NASA developed SMART technology for its spacecraft. At the moment, the technology is also implemented for terrestrial means of transport.
SMART stands for Shape Memory Alloy Radial Technology. As you can see, we are talking about a technology different from that of "usual" airless tires in the industry. With the help of SMART technology, airless tires have impressive elasticity and durability. Unlike the traditional airless tire process, the SMART process involves the use of nickel-titanium components. This is known as NiTinol+ in the industry and has phenomenal elasticity, durability, and shape memory properties. Thus, they are flexible like rubber but resistant like titanium.
At the moment, the first terrestrial products with this type of airless tire will be bicycles. Meanwhile, manufacturing companies develop prototypes and concepts of SMART tires for passenger vehicles and trucking transport.
From the idea, through purpose, to implementation
The first attempts to develop an airless tire took place back in 1999. The leading manufacturers in the tire market were the most involved in these attempts. The attempts were successful and Michelin even produced some models for certain purposes.
The future of tires consists of replacing regular ones with airless ones. According to specialists, these novel tires offer a series of benefits that a traditional tire will never be able to offer. First of all, they eliminate the discomfort associated with periodic inflation and intermittent monitoring of tire air pressure.
Secondly, the situations in which a tire goes flat become unlikely. Thirdly, these resist much better pressures and higher loads, making the vehicle much more resistant to stress. Last but not least, they have an impressive resistance over time, being 3 times more long-lasting than the current ones.
A no less important aspect is that these tires are 100% recyclable, which solves many issues related to the massive pollution they bring to the environment.
Why does it take so long?
You are probably wondering why they are not yet available for commercial vehicles, considering the chain of benefits they offer. Even though the first attempts to use airless tires were successful, they were mounted on specific construction equipment applications. This means low-speed vehicle types.
At present, airless tires are still not sufficiently efficient in terms of ensuring the grip and traction of a commercial vehicle. For now, they face low-speed constructions that operate in off-road circumstances only. As for commercial vehicles, airless tires are still in the development phase to make them better bear the vehicle load and ensure stability and safety at high speeds.
But once available for commercial use, these types of tires will require almost zero maintenance providing maximum operating competencies.
In light of the rapid modernization trends of all industries, tire manufacturers aren't held back at all. Every tire manufacturer has airless tire development in mind.
For example, the giant Bridgestone company plans to launch airless tires specifically for commercial trucking. The company is doing its best to achieve this goal within 3-5 years. At the moment, Bridgestone already has the tire prototype and is testing it on a large scale on different constructions to validate or correct its engineering architecture. For now, Bridgestone sees more value in air-free tires for commercial purposes than for passengers.
Speaking of another giant in the tire industry, Goodyear advanced in a successful collaboration with Tesla. It coupled its airless tires with a Tesla Model 3, providing promising results. The brand has also engaged in the field of robotics. Thus, it tested a pilot version of air-free tires on a grocery delivery robot.
These 2 companies are by no means the only ones involved in the process. Almost all tire leaders in the industry project designs, create prototypes, and test pilot versions of airless tires. So their production is as real as possible. We just have to wait a little bit.
What advantages and disadvantages can we expect?
The future of tires sounds very good and promising. It seems that we will get rid of flat tire risks forever and we will have a more pleasant driving experience once airless tires take over the industry. But is everything so riskless? What are the pitfalls of airless tires, if any? I will mention them, but not before listing the advantages of this exciting industry.
As I mentioned before, airless tires tend to be much longer lasting, with almost zero maintenance requirements. So, one of the most welcome advantages is their cost-friendly perspectives.
An aspect that I personally see as crucial is the eco-friendly components that manufacturers strive to use. This will bring a significant contribution to the environment. Unfortunately, every year, billions of pounds of waste tires end up in oceans and landfills. They cause major damage to the environment that we don't even realize. With airless tires, these damages will be significantly reduced, bringing an imminent contribution to the environment.
An equally important aspect is the reduction of CO2 emissions. Manufacturers have concluded that airless tires release less amount into the air, which contributes to reducing air pollution.
Considering all the benefits, it seems that the airless tire industry is a promising compromise between business and the environment. And we have to admit that the current tire business does not really take environmental protection into account.
Despite the impressive benefits of airless tires not only on driving comfort but also on the environment, internet users find disadvantages anyway.
One of them refers to the imposing costs that airless tires assume. The price of airless tires is indeed much higher in comparison to regular ones. But if you do a long-term calculation, it seems to me that you really can save some m money.
Another aspect concerning the drivers is the stiffness of airless tires. Once the stiffness of a tire increases, it transmits all the vibrations in the suspension, which leads to massive discomfort for the driver and the passengers in the cabin. With speed increasing, this issue becomes even more expressive. I hope that the manufacturers take this aspect into account and do their best to alleviate the ride as much as possible.
We are getting closer to the moment when airless tires will become a regular part of our reality. Personally, I will be very happy to give them a try, understanding that they represent the future. On the whole, I think that the advantages of airless tires significantly eclipse their disadvantages and they are totally worth considering. I bet on the fact that the big tire manufacturers have all the expertise and professionalism necessary to remove all possible shortcomings so that they are as viable as possible for commercial vehicles. I believe and hope that in a few years, the tire industry will amaze us with its achievements.
After all, even the current tires were not very comfortable initially. Everything needs time to improve and progress. Accordingly, even if airless tires will indeed be slightly stiffer than pneumatic ones, I am sure that manufacturers will continue to look for solutions. All we need is a little patience as great things need time.