Emerging Wheel Technologies

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When Robert Thomson invented the pneumatic tire a century and a half ago, he also came up with several other ideas to soften the ride and reduce the power required to propel the carriages of his day. One involved filling what he called his “aerial wheel” with sponges, springs or horsehair to avoid flats caused by debris on the roadway.
In spite of the excellent performance provided by today’s tires, engineers in the industry and many with training from an auto mechanic school continue to try to invent a wheel and tire combination that doesn’t require air. The goal is to eliminate flats, lengthen tread life, facilitate recycling and even improve handling. This is just one of many exciting new wheel technologies to keep an eye out for.

The airless tire

Late last year, Bridgestone presented an airless tire concept, which, the company said, was the result of three years of research. Looking beyond eliminating flats, the company stressed the environmental benefits of using only recyclable materials in this tire’s design. The airless Bridgestone consists of a thin rubber tread supported by flexible thermoplastic spokes and a rigid aluminum center section. Inner and outer spokes run in opposite directions to provide vertical compliance without twisting. Before the concept can progress from prototype to the highway, there are a number of issues still to solve, such as how to avoid trapping debris in the spokes. Still, it’s one of the most promising and potentially disruptive technologies to emerge in a long time. New tire technologies should lead to fewer automotive problems, which will be a relief for those with dispatcher training.

Electric wheel

A new high-tech wheel rolled out by Protean Electric could help increase the fuel efficiency of hybrids by as much as 30 percent. The advanced system, unveiled at the 2013 SAE World Congress, features in-wheel electric motors that help to power a hybrid and improve the vehicle’s overall drive system. Stored in the space behind the wheel, the electric motor can deliver about 100 horsepower. The regenerative braking system allows up to 85 percent of the available kinetic energy to be recovered during braking. The fact that the in-wheel motors don’t require gearboxes, driveshafts or differentials, is also said to give carmakers more flexibility when designing the system. Each in-wheel motor can be controlled independently, which is said to provide for greater control, performance and vehicle dynamics than other drive systems.

Self-inflating tire

A Czech company, Coda Development, has pioneered a system called the self-inflating tire (SIT). This keeps the tire pressure constantly at its proper level with a valve that takes in outside air and forces into the tube. Once at optimal pressure, the valve shuts off the intake of air and circulates it inside the tire. Since improperly inflated tires can lead to blowouts and even rollovers in some circumstances, this technology could mean big advances in safety.

The active wheel

By integrating a motor, suspension system, brakes and tire into a standalone wheel package, Michelin’s “Active Wheel” technology is an innovation that could make electric cars truly approachable and practical, as well as fundamentally change the way we approach car design. By placing the motor entirely on the wheels, the Active Wheel changes the way cars operate, meaning you can imagine entirely different car shapes. This would be quite an adjustment for industry professionals, meaning they might need to get additional auto mechanic training in order to be able to repair one!

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