There’s nothing like a flat tire to ruin your day. But one day soon, a flat tire might seem as passé as a car without seatbelts.
Tire manufacturers have been hard at work developing products for a flat-less future. One of the first major steps in this direction is the Tweel. Part tire, part wheel, it is said to last three-times longer than normal tires.
Michelin first proposed the innovation in 2005 and has since built a $50 million plant dedicated to the development and production of airless tires. Only the military has had access to the technology—until last November when commercial production began.
Allysa Zu over at Popular Science breaks down how the Tweel works:
Unlike pneumatic tires, which cushion rides using a bed of pressurized air, the X Tweel uses a combination of deformable polyurethane spokes, a steel-and-rubber outer rim, and rigid metal hub. The outer rim—called a shear beam—carries most of the load. The spokes and hub distribute the load across different parts of the shear beam as the tire rolls over objects.
Before you get too excited, consider this caveat: the Tweel is not yet ready for vehicles that reach speeds over 50 miles an hour—aka, your car. In product testing, the Tweel was shown to heavily vibrate at high speeds, causing heat and a pretty obnoxious noise.
And so Michelin developed the X-Tweel, a variation of the invention intended for low-speed vehicles like lawn mowers and skid-steers. John Deere has recently become one of the first companies to incorporate the X-Tweel into their commercially available product line, putting it to work on their Z-Trak mowers.
While airless tires for your car may still be some ways off, the industry is still moving forward with tire technology. In 2012, Goodyear introduced “Air Maintenance Technology,” which keeps tires inflated without external pumps and helps maintain ideal air pressure. The innovation could help reduce fuel costs, especially in commercial trucks and fleet testing has already begun.