Even when I was a kid (which was a long time ago), I remember thinking how air-filled tires really are less than desirable and that there must be a more sensible, solid solution. My dad, an engineer, said the technology was available even back then but that tire companies would never let it happen because they’d stop making money off the millions of replacements each year! Conspiracy or not, the serious future of autonomous cars and ridesharing might mean it’s time to take the idea seriously. Michelin is currently exploring this opportunity with this incredible 3D printed airless tire system they’re calling the “Visionary Concept.”
According to Michelin, the system is composed of three distinct parts:
First, a wheel with no air, designed to last as long as the vehicle. Its ultra-durability comes from its honeycomb structure, which is inspired by natural models (Michelin calls it generative design: a form that mimics natural growth processes). It is made of recycled materials and it is also fully recyclable at the end of its life.
Next, tread that can be replenished by a 3D printer. The material draws on cold cure technology and delivers the same performances as a conventional tread. One notable difference, however… it’s completely biodegradable! Let’s say your tire’s tread is worn or maybe your road conditions have changed (rain, snow, heat, etc.)… you can actually print the tread you need in a matter of minutes at a number of strategically placed printing stations! What’s more, 3D printing is an additive technology, which means that it adds just the quantity of material that is necessary, where it is necessary, with no waste or loss.
Lastly, MICHELIN Visionary Concept is connected… meaning it communicates with your vehicle and your vehicle communicates with it. Without getting out of your car or even leaving your home, you can be informed of the wear on your tread and program a tread reprint.