The Future of Airless Tires
The Tweel does have several flaws (aside from the name). The worst is vibration. Above 50 mph, the Tweel vibrates considerably. That in itself might not be a problem, but it causes two other things: noise and heat. A fast moving Tweel is unpleasantly loud [Source: CBS News]. Long-distance driving at high speeds generates more heat than Michelin engineers would like.
Another problem involves the tire industry. Making Tweels is quite a different process than making a pneumatic tire. The sheer scale of the changes that would need to be made to numerous factories, not to mention tire balancing and mounting equipment in thousands of auto repair shops, presents a significant (though not insurmountable) obstacle to the broad adoption of airless tires.
Because of these flaws, Michelin is not planning to roll out the Tweel to consumers any time soon. “Radial tire technology will continue as the standard for a long time to come,” said Michelin’s press release touting Tweel development. They are initially working on Tweel use in low-speed applications, such as on construction vehicles. The Tweel is perfect for such use because the high-speed vibration problems won’t come into play, and the ruggedness of the airless design will be a major advantage on a construction site. Michelin is also exploring military use of the Tweel.
At a public demonstration of the Tweel, Michelin placed prototypes on the iBOT, a personal mobility device for physically impaired people, and the Segway Centaur, a four-wheeled ATV-type vehicle that uses Segway’s self-balancing technology.
Michelin isn’t the only company working on an airless tire design. Resilient Technologies is developing their own airless tire, known as the NPT (non-pneumatic tire). That company is using a more aggressive development and marketing strategy aimed at military use. The NPT is based on a different configuration of spokes, but the general idea is the same as the Tweel [Source: Fox News].
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