The Geneva International Motor Show this year is a showcase for all kinds of cool technology and fast concept cars, but what people are really getting excited about is a set of tires. Why? Because they’re straight out of "Blade Runner."
Let’s face it, the tires on grandpa’s 1955 Ford look a lot like the tires on your car today. Of course we made the big switch from cross-plys to radials with steel belts, got rid of tubes, developed the all-season tire, abandoned the whitewall and all that stuff. But a spherical tire that looks like a Super Ball? That’s truly new.
Goodyear calls it the Eagle-360, and admits that it’s technology for the future, though functional now. Specifically, the tire is intended for self-driving cars, and offers advances in “maneuverability, connectivity and biomimicry for autonomous mobility.” That last one means it was inspired by nature — the tread (if it can be called that) imitates the brain coral, and it behaves like a natural sponge. Its stiffer when its dry, and softer when wet, which increases resistance to aquaplaning.
The tire should be more maneuverable than conventional tires because it can move in all directions, making it easy to park cars in tight spaces. That’s not a new idea; check out the 1950s video below.
These tires won’t need to turn to go in a new direction. Instead, they’ll simply start rolling where you want the car to go. It will be more like sliding a chess piece across a game board. There won’t be a turning radius because the car will smoothly roll the way you want the car to go without having to truly turn like it does today.
This means your car can go in pretty much any direction with no limitations due to the wheels being turned as far as possible. With a rubber ball for a wheel, every direction is possible.
The connectivity part refers to embedded sensors that telegraph road and weather conditions to the vehicle control system (and surrounding cars, too). There’s also tread- and tire-pressure monitoring to ensure even wear and longer life. With all-over tread, longevity should be assured.
There’s more: These tires are designed to be held in place by some kind of magnetic levitation system, “resulting in a smooth, quiet ride for the passenger.” Magnetic levitation has so far only been used for trains, and my guess is that the maglev system Goodyear is talking about still exists only on the drawing board. It’s future tech.
Oh, and the tread is 3-D printed, too.
Goodyear also showed a second tire for autonomous cars that’s less fanciful, but incorporates some available-now technology that we really need. The IntelliGrip reads road conditions with advanced sensors. If it senses a slippery road surface, it will slow the car down; it can also adjust stopping distances enhance cornering response, optimize stability, and act as an executive assistant to collision prevention systems. The IntelliGrip is designed to work with electronic stability control, brake control and automated suspension systems.
Built-in active-wear technology keeps a running tab on the condition of both tires and the car itself. Custom algorithms address inflation pressure and tire temperature.
Joe Zekoski, Goodyear’s chief technical officer, calls the concept tires “testbeds for next-generation technologies.” As I’ve written, we’re seeing breakthroughs in a product category that’s been pretty status quo for the last few decades. Click here to read about a system Michelin is introducing that will automatically keep truck tires at proper inflation.
And here’s Goodyear’s science-fiction spherical tires on video: