Imagine a tyre that never punctures, never needs replacing, can be adapted for different road conditions and which lasts as long as your car. A tyre that informs you about road conditions and its performance, and which is completely biodegradable and recyclable.
That’s exactly what the researchers at Michelin did — they indulged in some blue-sky thinking. A few months back, they unveiled the results of that process — the appropriately named Michelin Vision concept tyre. It’s a design with so much potential that Time Magazine has named it as one of their ‘25 Best Inventions of 2017.’
To call the Michelin Vision a radical step forward is a massive understatement. If anything approaching the concept tyre makes it into production, it will rewrite all the rules on how tyres are made and used.
Let’s see why.
Green materials and manufacturing
Let’s face it, today’s tyres are not the most eco-friendly products. Many of the materials they’re made from are derived from petrochemicals, at considerable cost to the environment. And as we can see from the tyre fragments on every motorway, those materials stick around in the environment long after their useful life is over.
So Michelin wanted sustainability to be a vital strand in its concept tyre. Accordingly, the tyre is constructed from natural or recycled materials. To take one example, instead of using petrochemical-based chemicals for its resins, the concept tyre uses compounds found in orange zest!
The combination of materials means that the tyre will be far more recyclable, and fully biodegradable.
The honeycomb construction
The Vision’s construction is unlike anything on the market today. Michelin’s designers looked to nature for inspiration, and developed a honeycomb-like structure that requires no air gaps to provide cushioning (and of course, no air gaps or tubes means no more punctures). This solid core is surrounded by a biodegradable tread.
Nor do the innovations stop there. Instead of fitting around the wheel, the designers intend the Vision to replace both tyre and wheel. We should probably call it the wheel/tyre (but we’ll stick to tyre).
Smart, printable tyres
Michelin’s concept tyre would also make full use of 3D printing technology. Their designers envisage new tread being printed at roadside stations as and when it is needed. This would bring motorists two massive advantages. Firstly, it’s a much more efficient system, because rather than needing a whole new tyre, only the lost material is replenishe. Secondly, it means the tyre can be easily adapted to current driving conditions much more easily. Heading into some snow? Fine, just print the new tread pattern that you need!
Manually inspecting your tyres may become a thing of the past too, as sensors within the tyre will provide continuous feedback on its condition.
Coming soon to a tyre supplier near you?
With its concept tyre, Michelin offers a beguiling glimpse of smarter, greener, safer tyres. However, it’s likely to be some time before you can order your first set. Terry Gettys, head of research and development at Michelin, has emphasised that this is a long term, aspirational project.
However, that’s not necessarily a coded way of saying it’s all a bit pie-in-the-sky. Because even if the Michelin Vision never makes it into production in its current form, the materials and technologies in its design could start trickling down to real-world tyres. And that process is likely to begin sooner rather than later.