Flat tires have been the bane of motorists’ existence ever since cars first set rubber to road more than a century ago. Just about everyone who’s been driving for a while has had to deal with one, and all the worries that come along for the ride: the fear that comes with suddenly losing control, the anxiety of swapping the busted-up unit for the spare on the roadside as cars whiz by at mile-a-minute speeds, the frustration of having to buy not one but two replacements because the matching tire on the far side is too worn-down to be paired with a new one.
Those days may be coming to an end, however. Michelin has revealed a new tire concept called the Uptis that could banish flats to the history books forever — by taking the air out of the tire.
Well, technically, there’s still air in the tire – it’s just not pressurised air trapped in there to give the rolling stock its shape. Instead, the Uptis’s form is held together by a latticework of ribs made from composite rubber and high-strength resin-embedded fiberglass connecting the inner and outer rings. The entire unit is 3-D-printed, and fastened to a new aluminum wheel assembly; all told, the prototype unit weighs in at around 50 pounds, comparable to a modern run-flat tire and the wheel it’s mounted to.
Michelin’s goals for the Uptis–which, for the record, is an acronym that stands for “Unique Puncture-Proof Tire System”–go beyond eliminating blowouts for the sake of simplifying driver’s ed, though. The airless Uptis is also designed to require far less maintenance than traditional tires, making it ideal for future autonomous vehicles and electric cars. It can also make for a healthier planet; Michelin points out that 200 million tires per year wind up being thrown away due to punctures or irregular wear caused by improper levels of air pressure right now, all of which could eventually be prevented by futuristic replacements like this.
While tiremakers have dabbled in airless products before–Goodyear was making ones for NASA’s Lunar Rover nearly half a century ago–the Uptis is closer to production reality than, say, the kooky Vision concept the company showed off in 2017 or the spherical tires Goodyear displayed a couple years back. Michelin is teaming up with General Motors to test the tire; the two companies will be outfitting a fleet of Chevrolet Bolt EVs in Michigan with the Uptis later this year, to see how it actually handles the stresses of passenger vehicle life. If all goes well, a production version could be on sale by 2024.
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