Tweel Airless Tires
Can you imagine a driving experience where getting a flat tire was never a concern? It may sound too good to be true, but the engineers at Michelin have been working on that very dream since 2005. Tweel Airless Tires are a combination tire-wheel (hence the name) that relies on a whole new construction, eliminating air pressure altogether. So, how does it work exactly? And why the heck can’t we buy it right now!?
The construction of the Tweel airless tire is relatively simple. At the center is a deformable hub that connects to the vehicle itself. The hub is surrounded by a series of flexible polyurethane spokes, which support an outer shear band, covered by conventional rubber tire tread. The tread itself can be designed just like it is today in pneumatic tires, and is replaceable when worn. The flexible spokes absorb shock in the same way that air absorbs shock within a typical tire, and the hub is able to flex under various loads and spring back to its original shape. The spokes can be made with a wide range of stiffness, offering many different handling and load capabilities.
The benefits of this construction are numerous! There is the obvious elimination of tire punctures and/or blowouts; this makes tires safer, less expensive, and much longer lasting. Michelin has also claimed the tread itself will last 2-3 times longer than normal tire rubber, and falls within 5% of rolling resistance of its pneumatic tires (this means it’s within a 1% range of fuel efficiency of regular tires). In terms of handling, Tweel Airless Tires offer a unique advantage – in normal tires, a more cushiony ride leads to a decrease in handling (and vice versa), since both ride quality and handling are related to the air pressure and sidewall stiffness within the tire. With a Tweel Airless Tire, these aspects can be controlled independently of one another. This means the flexible spokes offer a cushiony, flexible ride, while the lateral stiffness (and overall handling abilities) can be tuned separately. The combination of producing less waste and eliminating the driver’s need to help fuel efficiency through air pressure monitoring make the Tweel airless tire much more environmentally friendly, too.
There are some downsides, unfortunately. The most notable issue preventing its mass marketing is heavy vibration above 50 mph. This leads to unpleasant noise levels and excessive heat production. While these are issues that will surely be fixed over time by Michelin engineers, there exists another problem largely out of their control – the tire and auto industries as a whole. There are literally thousands of tire factories, auto shops, dealers, auto makers, etc. that would have to change their business models entirely to accommodate such a radical shift. In terms of marketing, equipment, technical training, and development, it almost seems impossible. Of course it is not impossible, but experts agree that it will be quite some time before the Tweel airless tire is available to passenger vehicles and consumers in the common marketplace.
There are some current applications for this cool technology, though. Various construction and military vehicles are already taking advantage of the Tweel airless tire. Since they’re not high-speed vehicles, they don’t run into the excessive noise and heat problems that standard passenger vehicles do. Tweel airless tires have also been showcased on the Segway Centaur (an ATV 4-wheeler) and the iBot (a mobility vehicle for the physically impaired).
This is an exciting technology to watch develop, and will surely revolutionize the tire industry as a whole. While we’re just as excited as the next person to see these tire alternatives hit the stores, just remember – patience is a virtue, and good things come to those who wait.
In the meantime, check out AutoSquad for all your regular tire needs! Contact us at 855-484-3778, or visit www.AutoSquad.com to see our tire selection and make an appointment online. Please note that AutoSquad’s service is currently available in the Washington, DC metro area only.