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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Most people don’t pay attention to their tires until something goes wrong – or until it's time to fork over hundreds of dollars for a new set. However, tire technology doesn't stand still just because consumers aren't paying attention. The last 50 years have seen incredible advances in tires, and 2013 will be no exception.
As we look ahead to the new year, here's what tire manufacturers are working on.

Self-Inflating Tires

Fifty-five percent of vehicles on US roadways have at least one under-inflated tire. While most of these tires just cause their owners to buy extra gas (under-inflation reduces a vehicle's fuel economy by as much as 3%), about 6% of these under-inflated tires will contribute to an accident.
Traditionally, warnings about wasted fuel and vehicle safety haven't been compelling enough to get consumers to act – consumers just don't understand, don't remember, or don't care. The solution? Tires that inflate themselves.
Goodyear is researching tires that maintain their own optimum air pressure using a combination of electronics and common sense technology. Dubbed “Air Maintenance Technology,” it starts with a flexible air tube inside the tire. This tube is designed to compress as the tire rolls, and when combined with a couple of directional valves and a tire pressure sensor, this system can inflate a tire using the vehicle's rolling motion.
How it Works: Imagine this tube is like a straw in a glass of water. If you put your fingertip on the end of the straw and move it on and off the tube fast enough, you'll begin to “pump” water up the tube of the straw. In Goodyear's system, two directional valves are opened and closed electronically to draw air in from the atmosphere and then pump it into the tire.

The Airless Tire

For nearly a century, air-inflated tires have been used on almost all forms of motorized transportation. Air is compressed inside a flexible rubber tube (a tire) mounted to a metal wheel. This combination of air, tire, and wheel has been the status quo for as long as the automobile has been popular, mostly because air-inflated tires are a reasonably inexpensive combination of performance and durability.
However, technology has advanced to the point where tires no longer need to rely upon compressed air to do their job. Britek’s new Energy Return Wheel (ERW) is a flexible, elastic framework of synthetic spokes that combine to form a wheel.

There are numerous benefits to this concept:

- Since his framework doesn't rely upon compressed air, under-inflation isn't a concern.
- Unlike air-filled tires, holes or damage to the Britek tire's surface don't automatically cause a catastrophic failure.
- The framework's unique design and elastic construction can turn bumps with road obstacles into forward momentum. Using this technology, Britek has shown that vehicles can experience as much as a 37% improvement in fuel economy – a shockingly high amount.

Finally, it should be noted that synthetic tire frameworks designed by other companies are also being investigated by the military. Since synthetic tire frameworks are strong enough to support very large vehicles, fairly bulletproof (bullet holes don't cause air leaks), and incredibly durable, they make a lot of sense for military vehicles.
Whether it's safety concerns about under-inflation, attempts to improve fuel economy, or bullet-proof structure, the push for better tire design is never-ending. As companies like Goodyear and Britek work to improve the tire, consumers can look forward to improved safety and better gas mileage.

Author Bio:
Author Jason Lancaster works with Olathe Toyota Parts Center. For more on tire safety and what tire numbers mean.

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