11-06-2018 | Brenda Rodríguez López
Talking about the future of the car industry is almost imperative. The automotive industry is one of the fields that invests in and bets on innovation the most. The usual topics in the sector are the transition towards the vehicle electrification, the unbridled competition of brands to achieve the desired level five of autonomous driving, the search for new alternatives that are respectful with the environment, the greater connectivity of automobiles or the change in the user behavior that initiatives like "carsharing" set out. However, it is not often that the attention of the industry falls on the future of something that a priori may seem trivial, but that in reality is a fundamental and inherent part of the vehicle concept: tires.
Far from the generalization of the use of the so-called flying cars, it is also important to focus on what keeps cars in contact with the road. Until recently, tires were one of the most conservative elements of vehicles, now manufacturers also set out new challenges for wheels. Companies do not skimp on offering different, futuristic and unusual ideas when it comes to developing "rubbers" that are ecological, connected and which have proved to be more efficient than the current ones. What do these tires of the future look like?
Perhaps, aware of the industry's shift towards electrification, the increasing regulation of vehicle emissions in Europe and the diesel decline, the manufacturers specialized in tire production are now focusing on the environmental care. One of the last companies to launch an ecological message is also one of the best known brands of "rubbers", Michellin. The world's second-largest tire manufacturer recently announced the ambitious goal of getting all its tires to be 100% recyclable in 2048.
During the last edition of the Movin'On mobility congress in Montreal, Michellin presented its plan to manufacture tires made with 80% sustainable materials that can be recycled in the future in an integrated manner. The French group is now looking for new biodegradable materials with which they can fulfill this mission. The self-imposed challenge by the firm is not only limited to this task, but it also proposes the development of new formulas to recycle the tires that are now produced.
Another of the working lines of the french firm has to do with boosting the connectivity in the wheels of the vehicles themselves. Although it may seem an advance which is still far from the present day, it is closer to a near future that it might seem at first. The CEO of Michellin, Florent Menegaux, says that at the end of this year all the truck tires will have an electronic device that will allow to collect and consult information about their status to the fleets, all the necessary system for their control. A technology that has already been tested in aircraft tires and that in the coming years will come to passenger cars. Besides, the firm also launched several weeks ago, in collaboration with Porsche Michellin Track Connect, a service designed for circuits that connects the tires with a mobile app.
Goodyear is one of the largest tire manufacturers that bets on a disruptive vision of future. Its Eagle-360 Urban is one of the most innovative proposals presented so far within the industry. This "tire" reshapes itself into a complete sphere equipped with a bionic skin that incorporates a sensor network. The drawing that the sensors make resembles the grooves of a brain. A very successful design since this concept is built on the use of artificial intelligence.
The Eagle-360-Urban is introduced as a tire impossible to puncture and according to the brand capable of sensing, deciding, transforming and interacting. In other words, it is a "rubber" capable of obtaining information on the wheel's condition and the real-time context, changing and adapting the drawing to the different surfaces according to the need for grip on the road and repairing itself when it suffers a puncture. However, this concept also faces its own challenges. Its spherical shape does not fit into the axle system of the current vehicles. As a solution to this setback, the brand proposes a magnetic levitation system.
Goodyear is a brand that never ceases to astonish the sector. Its latest proposal sets out a wheel design that is even more futuristic. Oxygene is a tire that has an essentially ecological approach: to stop emitting CO2 to generate oxygen. This brand's concept employs live moss on the sidewall of the tire to achieve this extravagant goal. Its tire promises to be able to absorb the humidity and the water of the roadway, "inhale" the CO2 through the air and perform a process of photosynthesis with which it will also be able to generate enough electricity to power its internal electronic components. It is a tire that would also be connected.
As it is expected in the tire industry, one of the biggest concerns of the manufacturers is to get a final goodbye to the punctures. In order to solve this problem, for years the main brands of the industry have agreed to bet on the development of tires without air. Some of these firms already market them, like Michellin with their X Tweel, but only for agricultural and industrial vehicles. This is a model that, for the moment, has not been able to adapt to passenger cars because it does not tolerate high speeds well.
The South Korean company Hankook has also been working on a line of airless tires for years. Its latest version of the iFlex prototype offers a design compatible with any vehicle because it adapts to conventional wheel rims. Precisely, this firm proposed in 2013 three concepts of really innovative rims, namely Boostrac, Alpike and HyBlade, which were able to modify their structure depending on the conditions of the road. Bridgestone with the Air-Free technology for bicycles or the Japanese company Sumitomo Rubber in collaboration with Toyota are also some of the brands that are still betting on a different concept of tires that does not use air.
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