Goodyear’s hope for a more sustainable future lies in the promise of tires that will never lose their pressure — because there’s never any air in them at all. Earlier this year, Goodyear began testing its non-pneumatic tires (also known as airless tires) on Olli autonomous shuttles, and now they’re ready enough to be trialed on electric vehicles.
Today Goodyear released the first video demonstration of its prototype airless tires being used on a Tesla Model 3. The video is impressive — the driver is able to navigate around orange pylons with ease, despite sporting tires with no air in them at all.
The Model 3 was able to successfully navigate at speeds up to 55 miles per hour, Goodyear says. That’s not quite fast enough to take them to your local thruway, just yet, but it’s pretty damn close. When paired with an electric vehicle, especially, airless tires could be our best chance at creating sustainable transportation options for the future.
There’s really no air — Airless tires are not an entirely new concept. There’s record of innovators testing similar ideas as early as the 1930s, and companies like Michelin have been working on serious prototypes since the early 2000s. It’s only in recent years that the idea has really gained traction in the automotive industry, though.
Goodyear’s take on non-pneumatic tires is quite similar to what Michelin has been working on. Instead of air pressure keeping the tire taut and ready, a collection of spokes keeps the wheel firm enough to drive on. The mechanism is pretty astounding to watch in action; the wheels bend in ways that look unnatural compared to traditional tires.
Is this the future? — Companies like Goodyear are now pouring resources into the development of airless tires because they’re a sustainable alternative to traditional tires. Non-pneumatic tires never go flat, and they need to be replaced much less frequently.
There are plenty of challenges standing in the way of mainstream NPT adoption, the main one being that the suspension they create often struggles to hold up heavy vehicles like cars and trucks. Carrying out maneuvers like the ones in Goodyear’s Tesla video can prove especially difficult for airless tires.
Right now Goodyear’s airless tires are still very much in prototype and testing mode. Consumers will have to wait quite a while to try them out: Goodyear’s goal is to have them road-ready by 2030. Michelin, meanwhile, plans to sell its non-pneumatic tires as soon as 2024.
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