The wheel has been with us for over 5,500 years. From carts to chariots to cars, not much has really changed much in five millennia.
But as automobiles – and how we drive them – are reimagined in this 21st century, Goodyear is questioning the basic design of the wheel.
The tire maker revealed a new concept: sphere shaped tires. Named the Goodyear Eagle 360, the tires were unveiled at last year’s Geneva Motor Show. Designed specifically for self-driving vehicles, they look like large rubber balls – but with futuristic features that deliver both safety and performance.
Round, Revolutionary and Road Ready
Unlike regular wheels that only move forward or backward, spherical wheels allow the car to move fluidly in all directions. Goodyear says this helps improve driving safety and also helps the car navigate tight spaces. Parallel parking becomes easier when you can simply spin sideways into place. That cuts down on dings and dents. About 80 percent of bumper scratches occur during parking. And nearly 30 percent of drivers say it’s ok to “love tap” your bumper when parallel parking.
The Eagle 360 tires also have more surface area than regular wheels. That means the tires won’t wear out as quickly, plus they grip the road better.
The treads mimic brain coral, but act like a natural sponge. On dry days, the spherical tires stiffen, delivering better driving performance. But on wet roads, the tires soften and the tread grooves absorb water, lessening the chance of hydroplaning. That’s a huge safety enhancement; more than 10 percent of traffic fatalities each year result from wet roadways.
Suspension of Disbelief
While spherical tires bleed the cutting edge, it took imagination to figure out how to attach them to a car without axles. Taking a cue from maglev trains that work without wheels and instead glide just above it by magnetic force, Goodyear engineers use electromagnets to keep the spherical wheels in place.
The car actually hovers over the tires.
This protects the vehicle’s suspension and exhaust system from damaging potholes. Goodyear also says the Eagle 360 tires will provide a quieter smoother ride.
And like other everyday items becoming “smart,” so will tires. The Eagle 360 tires come with built-in sensors and networking features that monitor road conditions and adjust the car’s speed accordingly. Plugged into the larger network, the tires communicate with vehicles behind them, telling cars following behind to slow down and prepare for conditions ahead. Other sensors track the wear on the spherical tires and readjust their position in order to optimize performance and extend their lives.
Goodyear acknowledges the reality of spherical tires is probably a few years off. But we hope some of the smart – and safe – technology being developed improves an invention long, long overdue for an upgrade.
Article written by MG Rhodes. Submitted: 3/21/17
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