Tires have evolved along with our vehicles and are now set for a smart revolution
The etymology of “tire” is rooted in the word attire which refers to especially fine and formal wear. Indeed, a wheel with a tire was once considered a dressed wheel! Since then, the technology behind tires has progressed by leaps and bounds thanks to research and innovation and promises to continue doing so, at least until our vehicles begin to fly or hover and will no longer require tires.
The earliest tires were made of leather and then iron and steel and fitted around the wooden wheels of carts and wagons. The first patent for a standard pneumatic tire was filed in 1847 by Scottish inventor Robert William Thomson. Oddly, however, his invention was never put into production.
Tires improved and progressed along with the development of technology. The first pneumatic tire was produced in 1888 by John Boyd Dunlop and later refined with the acquisition of patents for vulcanized natural rubber and the “clincher” rim that still holds tires in place over metal rims. By the 1920s, synthetic rubbers were being employed for vehicle tires, while the radial tire construction method was introduced in 1946 and tubeless tires were commercially introduced in 1955.
Today, over 1 billion tires are produced annually in over 400 factories around the world.
Today’s tires provide far greater safety, performance and efficiency standards than ever before. And as the element that actually allows vehicles to move, researchers have constantly studied new ways to improve this technological component that mankind first developed during the Neolithic, over 6000 years ago.
New concepts and prototypes are being studied in research laboratories around the world and innovation are constantly adopted by the industry to drive the new performance and security standards of twenty-first century vehicles.
The dream of saying goodbye to punctures and filling tires with air is already here. Airless tires, which are actually already available for bikes, were patented in 2011. Moreover, airless tires are extremely eco-compatible as they are produced using recycled materials to produce a thermoplastic resin, a process which significantly reduces carbon dioxide emissions. Airless tires are also significantly lighter than a classic pneumatic tire. Researchers claim that airless tires will be available for cars by 2019.
Omindirectional wheels are an old trick of many a cartoon car, but Canadian inventor William Liddiard has made that dream come true. Now, everyone will be able to parallel park or squeeze out of tight jams. Most notably, Liddiard’s prototype can be applied to existing vehicles without any major modifications. What remains to be seen, however, is whether this concept will be developed at the industrial level.
Moving into the realm of smart tires proper, miniaturized sensors built into the tire walls can gather precious information on temperature and pressure, vertical loads and torque, as well as tire wear and mileage. This type of smart tire has already been successfully employed in Formula One Racing cars for a number of years and the technology is now ready to be transferred to commercial and private vehicles.