This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.
The basic concept of a tire hasn’t changed much in decades. But whoever said it is impossible to reinvent the wheel hasn’t seen this latest innovation — a steel tire.
An Arizona-based startup called Global Air Cylinder Wheels (GACW) came up with a wheel design that eliminates the need for disposable, polluting rubber tires. And they’re starting with the biggest tires you’ve ever seen.
The wheels are turning: Serial inventor, Zoltan Kemeny, came up with the idea for the new steel tire and named it the Air Suspension Wheel (ASW). Unlike typical rubber tires, the ASW is made mainly of steel — which means it lasts longer and can be repaired or recycled. The wheel is intended to last as long as the vehicle itself, according to the company.
Unlike typical rubber tires, the ASW is made mainly of steel — which means it lasts longer and can be repaired or recycled.
But rubber tires help grip the ground and cushion bumps. How could a steel tire even come close to a smooth, safe ride? Built into the mechanical wheel is a pneumatic suspension system — an air suspension system powered by a pump or compressor that floods air into flexible bellows. That will allow the steel wheel to grip the road on tight turns and keep the passengers from bouncing out of their seats.
Go big: Of course, steel tires could tear up the road, literally. And, in most places, tires with metal aren’t street-legal. But GACW is currently focused on the mining market — specifically off-road construction vehicles.
The wheels needed for off-road mining equipment are huge and costly, up to $75,000 each. And because they cross rough terrain, they often only last up to nine months, reports Popular Mechanics. These new tires are part of an effort to ditch the disposable rubber tire and integrate the tire into a permanent part of the wheel.
“Tires are either the #1 or #2 expense on mine sites,” GACW’s Harmen David van Kamp told Popular Mechanics. “Very dangerous and extremely polluting.”
The tires will also help save on fuel costs because they greatly reduce the rolling friction or drag. This means that gas and diesel engines would be more efficient and release fewer emissions, reports Brighter Side of News.
Reinventing the wheel: Kemeny is far from alone in developing innovative tire designs. Tesla is attempting to switch to airless tires on its Model 3. The latest electric Mini Cooper is sporting airless tires.
And NASA’s airless rover tires are being adapted for use on bicycles. Airless tires would mean that a tiny nail would never leave you stranded on the side of the highway.
Steel tires, on the other hand, would also be never-flat, while also being more durable. The downside is that they will be limited to off-road vehicles, at least until they can be made safe for asphalt streets.