Advances in 3D printing are driving smart tire innovation, with giants like Michelin and Goodyear creating concept tires which look destined to roll off the production line.
Michelin’s 3D-printed Vision concept tire is made from biodegradable recycled materials and relies on an airless design which combines the rim and tire in one. Vision is the forebearer of a new generation of smart passenger car tires that will benefit from innovative designs thanks to 3D printing using new compounds, says Michelin communications director for innovation, Cyrille Roget.
We are investing in 3D printing because we believe it can underpin a complete paradigm shift of the tire industry – it gives our designers the freedom to develop ideas like Vision which couldn’t be manufactured before.
Puncture-proof tires use a honeycomb-like design to support the vehicle’s weight rather than relying on air pressure. They are well-suited to the challenging road conditions found in developing countries, Roget says, but will also be of value in developed countries where funding for road maintenance can fall short. Airless designs are also a smart choice for autonomous vehicles which don’t have a driver at hand to change a damaged tire.
Today around 1 billion tires reach end of life every year but, along with an airless design, Roget says Michelin plans to further extend Vision’s lifespan by using 3D printing to retread tires on demand.
Perhaps this will be done at a dealership, or perhaps when you stop to refuel or recharge the car you could also top-up your tread using 3D printing and even reconfigure the tread for the terrain ahead.
Goodyear Releases Oxygene
Meanwhile rival Goodyear has also unveiled 3D-printed concept tires, such as the puncture-proof Oxygene which features moss growing within the sidewall. While releasing oxygen into the air to benefit the environment, the tire also harvests the energy generated during photosynthesis to power its embedded electronics.
Goodyear’s range of concept tires also includes the spherical Eagle 360 Urban which relies on magnetic levitation rather than an axel so the tires can move in any direction.
The spherical design offers improved handling, assisted by a super-elastic polymer bionic skin which can morph to change the tread and better suit the road conditions. The tires also relay road conditions to the vehicle and capture real-time information on their surroundings via wireless infrastructure, traffic and mobility management systems.
AI and Sensors on the Road
Artificial intelligence helps the Eagle 360 Urban make smart decisions, while learning from previous experience. This technology will improve road safety whether or not a person is behind the wheel, says Goodyear’s Europe, Middle East and Africa president, Jean-Claude Kihn.
To safely navigate their surroundings, the autonomous vehicles of the future will need to learn to cope with the millions of possible unknowns we face in everyday driving scenarios. To do so, they will need access to data and the ability to learn and adapt.
While helping vehicles make smart decisions on the road, these tires will also help owners make smart decisions when it comes to managing their tires, says Goodyear Australia head of consumer products, Raelene Smith.
We are developing information systems for consumers to make it easy for them to know when a tire should be replaced – including what tire is needed, based on vehicle and driving habits – and then tying into our supply chain to make sure we have the right tire available in the right place at the right time.
Both Goodyear and Michelin already offer smart tire sensors aimed at industries like mining and agriculture, and the technology is coming to passenger cars. Michelin Track Connect launched in April, allowing enthusiasts to monitor tire performance during track days.
For now the sensors are standalone devices, designed to be fitted to compatible tires and switched out when tires are replaced, but that will change as tires become more durable, says Michelin’s Roget.
As long as the lifespan of the sensor is longer than the life of your average tire then we will probably still offer a sensor that you can swap to new tires. Of course in the future when tires like Vision are designed for a much longer life span, then it becomes more practical to embed the sensor to create a truly smart tire.