Tires are a huge vulnerability for vehicles. They go flat. They get a puncture. They’re both traction and suspension, soaking up the uneven bumps in the road surface. If they’re under or over inflated, they have a negative impact on fuel economy. What if we could fix that?
Non-pneumatic tires, or tires without any air, have a basket-weave structure to support the outer traction surface, but also be flexible enough to absorb the weight of the vehicle and bumps of the road.
These aren’t exactly new – this sort of tire has been an experiment since about 2017. What’s new is that they’re now being 3D printed, and being tested on the autonomous Olli Shuttle in Jacksonville, Florida.
This sort of testing scenario is perfect – it’s low speed, and will show more than the last few years of research have been able to; whether or not it’s possible for sustainable, low-maintenance, long-lasting 3D printed tires to be used for this kind of service.
It’s also an excellent test bed to learn about noise, vibration, and harshness of ride. Goodyear projects that it may be possible to have maintenance-free tires in widespread use by the end of the decade.