Goodyear's "rechargeable" concept tire extrudes extra tread as needed
We love a good concept tire here at New Atlas. Incremental improvements aside, the wheel-to-road interface has been more or less stagnant since Goodyear rolled out the first commercial tubeless tire some 66 years ago. Now, the same company has proposed a radically different design with the new age of electric mobility in mind.
Electric cars, of course, will theoretically need very little in the way of maintenance. There's no oil changes or belts or timing chains to do, and regenerative braking does the lion's share of the stopping work, so even your brake pads will rarely need changing. Tires, on the other hand, will still require you to take your car to a workshop and wait around as they're being changed. In the age of instant gratification, this might start feeling like an anachronism.
Enter Goodyear's reCharge concept. The idea is to have a wheel that squirts out tire tread from a central reservoir as and when you need it, with replaceable cartridges that let you tailor the compound mix to your needs. The wheel itself seems to have some flex built into it, a la Michelin's iconic Tweel design, to replace the smooth ride offered by a pneumatic tire, and the hub's got an aperture in the middle that you can poke a new tread capsule into.
The tread compound would be biodegradable, made from biological materials and reinforced with fibers "inspired by" spider silk. This is science fiction at this stage, so let's roll with it. Individualized tread compounds would be designed for each driver's usage profile using artificial intelligence, because of course they would. And the treads would allegedly be super-durable, even if making an extra-durable tread would appear to be a counter-incentive to the idea of making tires that are extra-easy to recharge.
It's not immediately clear how exactly the tread liquid would get from the hub out to the exterior in an even fashion and without being affected by the deformation of the wheel, or indeed how Goodyear plans to make sure the tread gets evenly pushed out on the bit the car's entire weight is resting on, but let's play along and say it works perfectly. Theoretically, the reCharge wheel could pop out a bit of extra tread at the press of a button if you're heading off-road (however unlikely that may be in the kinds of future electric mobility pods envisaged here), or even perhaps retract it some to lower your rolling resistance and increase efficiency on the highway. That's not Goodyear talking here, that's pure speculation. But if it can make stuff up, so can we.
Realistically, by the time electrics take over to the degree that we need to start thinking about new tire solutions, the cars will be driving themselves, JohnnyCab style. So tire wear won't be a consumer concern, it'll be an issue for Uber or whatever companies end up owning the robo-rideshare market. In that context of high-mileage driving, where hours off the road for maintenance has a direct impact on the bottom line, maybe something like this, where a full tire change could be completed in two minutes at the depot, might start making sense. Until then ... well, it's an interesting concept to think about, but it's a little early to be reinventing the wheel.
Check out the video below. You'll note that as a measure of kindness to Goodyear, I've refrained from mentioning that these things are supposed to change color at the touch of a phone app. Whoops, now I've gone and mentioned it.