Airless Tires Means No More Flat Tires And More

Non-pneumatic tires are currently in the testing stage for cars, light vehicles, and some light military vehicles.  This type of tire negates the need to fill the tire up with air due to it’s flexible design.  Michelin (owner of BFGoodrich, Kleber, Riken, Kormoran, and Uniroyal), Bridgestone, and Resilient Technologies with the University of Wisconsin all have working prototypes of these polymer tires.  This type of tire design actually has load bearing, shock absorbing, and handling characteristics that are similar to or better than conventional pneumatic tires.  Since they do not have to be maintained at a proper air pressure, they are always in the optimal zone for fuel efficiency.  Holes can be integrated into the road surface part of tire itself since air is not held inside and this means that hydroplaning does not happen because the water will just go through the bottom of the tire.  Only the outer tread needs to be replaced and this means that the environmental impact is lessened and possibly the cost of replacing worn tires is reduced as well.
Surely there must be some drawbacks, otherwise we’d be seeing these on every single car.  I think they look odd compared to a standard tire and wouldn’t be sure if I would put these on my new red corvette for primarily aesthetical reasons.  Some of these designs look like it would be nearly impossible to clean thoroughly and this could result in anything from a minor brake dust problem to a major road kill nightmare.  Some designs are still having vibration problems with speeds over 50mph.  While Resilient Technologies are putting these tires on Military Humvees, both Bridgestone and Michelin don’t have tires that can handle the weight of some cars yet.  These tires also seem to need a small diameter wheel to work properly, which is the opposite trend of the new lower profile pneumatic tires.  The biggest drawback might be one of the things that nobody is freely advertising – the cost of these tires. 

While the U.S. Military is actively using some of these tires, nobody else is at this time.  However, many pieces of military technology like rockets, computers, and planes have considerably advanced civilian technology.  These wheels could be used on a variety of vehicles besides cars, including mobility devices, scooters, bikes, golf carts, segways, trucks, and airplanes.  The environmental effect of only having to re-tread these tires instead of throwing a whole tire away might be worth the odd shape.  Only time will tell if these airless tires can beat out the traditional, tested, and trusted pneumatic tire but if we can get over our love for the inflatable tire, we might just be able to roll into the future more efficiently.