An airless tire developed by Michelin will now be used on certain John Deere riding mowers, science and technology blog Next Big Future reported Jan. 27.
Michelin has been working on the tire, called the Tweel, since 2005. This part-tire, part-wheel design has no air-filled bladder, meaning it cannot get flat, leak pressure or burst. Shock absorption is instead provided by flexible spokes made of polyurethane, which connect an inner hub to the outer rim. In addition to the obvious benefit of preventing flat tires, the Tweel can accommodate tread patterns that can significantly reduce the risk of hydroplaning.
A special version of the design, called the X Tweel Turf, has been created for use on low-speed vehicles, and it is this design the mowers will use. It is expected to last three times longer than traditional tires.
But the Tweel may be ready for more applications in the near future. Prior to being approved for limited commercial use near the end of 2014, the technology had been available only to the military. Being tested in that context, the Tweel was shown to deflect blasts from mines away from military vehicles better than traditional tires. The Tweel also continued to function even when several spokes were damaged or missing altogether.
Most consumers are probably wondering how soon these flat-free tires will be ready for passenger vehicles. The company hasn’t given any clear answer, perhaps because it is still working to eliminate a few kinks, such as the design’s tendency to vibrate at speeds over 50 miles per hour, causing heat and noise problems.
Given progress on recent prototypes, it could be that the Tweel will make its way to the consumer market before too much longer. In the 2013 Hot Rod Power tour, three vehicles equipped with Tweel tires (a 2012 Honda CR-Z, a modified 1955 Morris Minor Traveller, and an Aluma Trailor with Polaris ATV) successfully completed the long-distance event, demonstrating their viability.
“It’s fair to say that technology advancements like this will continue to come,” says Rick Genin, Owner, Genins Auto Care. “I can see no negative side to the Tweel. An advantage not noted is that this type of wheel/tire technology can adapt to literally any terrain, no matter how course. What needs to be seen, like any new technology advancement, is how it rolls out (pun intended) with the already established wheel/tire industry. I think it will be very interesting.”