Air-filled rubber tires have been around for quite a long while, though the evolution of their design has been relatively slow. But we are now seeing inklings of new innovations such as airless tires (at least for bicycles) making an appearance. They may even be 3D printed someday, as French tire company Michelin is proposing with this biodegradable concept tire that is uses computational design to come up with a sensor-equipped tire that can be modified whenever needed, using on-demand additive manufacturing technology. Here's a peek into what these tires might work:
Presented in a striking blue hue, Michelin's Vision tire has a spongy "permanent structure" that's produced by computational design tools, giving it an organic look that's quite different from the black rubber tires we are so accustomed to. It's this web-like yet solid structure that allows the tire to function without air, eliminating any possibility of a flat tire. The company says that the tire would be made out of organic and recyclable rubber compounds; for example, using orange zest, hay, paper and metal instead of petroleum and synthetic elastomers.
The company also calls it the "world’s first tire that recharges" -- thanks to 3D printing tech, it would be possible to retread them by printing a new layer of material on top of your existing tire, extending its life or preparing you for winter driving conditions. With additive manufacturing technology, material usage is also optimized, so there's less waste.
The Vision tire is also a 'smart' tire, meaning it is equipped with sensors that provide diagnostic data about its usage in real-time. Imagine knowing when exactly to add a new layer to your tire or knowing how many more miles you can get out out them.
The idea is to enable consumers to get their tires retreaded at a local gas station or tire store, allowing them to download and print different tread patterns based on the driving conditions and their intended destination. It's a pretty neat idea, considering the heavy environmental footprint of conventional rubber tires have. The company predicts that while such an tire is still some years away from becoming mainstreamed, it's nevertheless a compelling design concept that shows what might be possible in the future. To see more, visit Michelin.