Consider the Wheel Reinvented

pumplon wheel photo
The 'Pumplon' can change its shape for any road conditions.

Imagine a tire which can change its shape to that best suited for the conditions of the road. The green benefits are numerous, from reducing travel times to increasing fuel efficiency. Farmers could potentially end the problems associated with soil compaction caused by current wheel designs--which is responsible for losses in production nearing 20%. Roads that are otherwise rendered impassable by flooding, mud, rocks, holes, or sand could be easy handled by a wheel able to adjust its height and width on command. The wheel, dubbed the 'Pumplon' for its resemblance to a pumpkin or a melon in its two extreme forms, is the brainchild of Brazilian Osmar Vicente Rodriguez, professor of industrial design. According to Brazil's A Tribuna, he was inspired by the problems facing public transportation and farmers in rural areas caused by poor roads and flooding during the rainy season. He believes his wheel improvement may put an end to these transport issues.

How Does it Work?
The secret of the Pumplon is a steel shaft that can expand and retract by means of a rotary mechanism, pneumatic or hydraulic, adjusting rings which makes the wheel deformation wider or narrower. In wetter conditions, for example, the narrowest setting is ideal to increase contact pressure; for mud, a wider tire is preferred. Conditions in which the road is flooded, the widest setting allows for the car to become amphibious. Additionally, the driver can control the settings on individual tires in situations where one or more have become stuck.

The material of the tires has been the subject of special consideration. According to Rodriguez, "initially they were steel, but we replaced it with a thermoplastic material, which is easier to produce, lighter and cheaper, and is recyclable. The cover is of vulcanized rubber, similar to that used in tires conventionally, but more flexible to allow changes in size."

According to the patent description:

This wheel can change its shape and dimensions according to the type and condition of the ground surface and is the first and only product of its kind in the world. It can potentially save at least 30% of vehicle fuel, compared to the use of conventional tires and, at the same time, environmentally friendly, reducing travel time, as well as soil compaction in agriculture plantations.

Rodriguez designed the wheel for a doctoral project while at the Royal College of Art in London, one of the most renowned research centers in the design world. The Pumplon is currently under development with a prototype expected sometime next year. According to the inventor, he's already in discussions with several companies interested producing the new wheel.

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