Airless Tires? A Closer Look at “Tweels”

auto restoration projects

In 2015, new technologies come and go like waves on the beach. They can be so present in our daily lives one day only to be washed away by something very similar but upgraded the next. Less often we see a technology that may represent a full paradigm shift.

 
Today I’d like to highlight what I predict will be a true paradigm shift in an underrated, yet extremely important piece of muscle car auto restoration projects—the tire.
 
One of the most ancient technologies known to man, the wheel, has remained relatively unaltered in recent years. On our cars, we currently use tires, modified wheels that prove to be much more useful than a standalone wheel itself. In addition, we have tires that allow you to drive when punctured, tires optimized for use in cold, slippery weather, and even tires that roll without making a sound. However, we haven’t seen a true paradigm shift in this technology since Robert Thomson used vulcanized rubber to provide a stable coat for the first pneumatic tires in 1839. Since then, we have expanded on that basic formula in automobile tire creation: a rubber outer filled with air that encapsulates the circumference of a hubcap equals a tire.
 
In recent years, however, there has been a monumental shift in tire technology and research. Researchers have begun foraging into the new territory of non-pneumatic tires, or tires without the current key ingredient – air pressure. Nicknamed the “tweel”, these experimental wheels use a strategic architecture of flexible polyeurethane spokes that support an outer rim while also absorbing shocks. Funded by the Department of Defense, Wisconsin researchers Resillient Technologies, LLC are currently experimenting with different types of “rims” to use with these wheels. Two major issues that are being addressed are lack of heat dissipation and noise.
Currently, tweels generate 5% more friction than a regular radial tire. This causes lots of heat buildup when rolling around—and without the air pressure inside the tire to help with dissipation, the tweels can overheat and cause structural damage. In addition, when rolling above 50 mph, the tweels apparently begin to vibrate, causing an unpleasant and loud noise.
 
As with any new technology, the tweel still has a few kinks to work out, and while the wheels are currently available for bikes and slower moving vehicles like the latest, the lunar rover, it’ll take more time before they are widely available for automobiles. The latest advancement we’ve seen comes from Hankook. Their i-Flex design is advertised as bringing lighter weight, greater fuel efficiency, and greater shock absorption to the ‘tweel’ market. The cherry on top? These wheels are made with 95% recyclable materials. They are also working on a new tire called the e-membrane, which is capable of physically changing its structure to be more efficient under different driving conditions (e.g. busy city traffic versus a race track).
 

Our final thoughts: how long before this new technology becomes outdated? With research into magnetic roads and hovering cars, will this technology serve too little too late? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

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image: auto.howstuffworks.com

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