Goodyear believes that in the future we will be flying through skyways like Marty McFly in Doc’s DeLorean. So the company has invented a tire that can be used to drive on the road and as a propeller for flight.
It’s name is Aero, and it looks pretty cool.
Of course, Marty’s future came and left on October 21, 2015 and we still don’t have flying cars. We have some airplane prototypes that are basically just airplanes with wheels, but that's about it.
But Goodyear’s yearly tire design stunts — which usually come out at the Geneva International Motor Show, like this year — are not about the immediate practicality of their concepts but introducing ideas that may be used in the future.
If you take aside its “multimodal design” — a tilt-rotor design that can be used as a regular tire on the road and a Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey-ish dual vertical and forward propeller for lift off and high-speed flying — the tire has technologies that can be used in near-future “regular” tires.
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One of them is its non-pneumatic structure. The Aero’s spokes would work both as support for the car’s weight in road mode as well as act as fan blades when the tire tilts. The tire itself, however, doesn’t any air inside. Instead, it relies on new experimental materials being developed by Goodyear that can be flexible to absorb road shock, thus providing with a comfortable ride, and strong enough to be able to sustain the friction that will occur to tilt from regular wheel to propeller.
Another thing that Goodyear is betting on is magnetic propulsion rather than the usual mechanical transmission. This is also something that is not hard to imagine in a near future, as superconductor technology becomes more affordable.
A wheel that uses magnetic propulsion will, in theory, provide frictionless operation, reducing the energy needed to drive the wheel in both modes.
Optical sensing and AI are the last two technologies in this concept tire design, both of which are both being put into use today in production cars. The Porsche 911 Carrera S, for example, uses optical sensors to know the amount of the water on the road, triggering driving assistance software to keep driving safe.
Goodyear believes this is something that will be a regular feature in future tires, using fiber optic sensors to monitor road conditions but also the physical status of the tire itself.
AI is now being used in Tesla cars for autopilot features, but Goodyear believes that tires should have AI processors that communicate with road infrastructure, combining data about surrounding cars and telemetry from its sensors to improve safety and identify potential problems.
So, no, we are not getting a flying car yet. But we will probably see some of this tech coming to our cars in our lifetime. And that’s heavy enough for me.