NASA's shape memory airless tire tech makes its way onto bicycles
An advanced tire technology developed by NASA for use on planetary rovers could be coming to a bike lane near you, with startup the Smart Tire Company leveraging the technology to introduce an airless alloy tire to the world of cycling. With the elasticity of rubber and the strength of titanium, these Metl tires promise a number of practical benefits, and mightn't be limited to just bicycles for long.
The fancy tires were developed in partnership with NASA and are the first consumer-oriented application of its airless shape memory alloy (SMA) tire technology. In 2017, we looked at an example of this from NASA that could be used to help robust rovers endure difficult terrain on other planets, with engineers developing a nickel-titanium alloy mesh wheel that could be deformed right down to the axle and then snap back to its original shape.
The team behind Metl has leveraged this alloy's ability to undergo phase transitions under strain to produce a next-gen bike tire that never needs inflating. Further to eliminating the dangers of pesky punctures, these shape memory wheels offer 30 times the recoverable strain of steel and should be long-lasting, possibly helping avoid the mountains of rubber waste generated by typical bicycle tires.
“Cyclists will not be able to wait to get their hands on these very cool-looking, space-age Metl tires that don’t go flat,” says Earl Cole, CEO of The Smart Tire Company. “The unique combination of these advanced materials, coupled with a next generation, eco-friendly design make for a revolutionary product.”
The tires will be made in gold, silver and metallic blue, and while there is no word yet on cost, they are expected to hit the market in 2022. The Smart Tire Company is also working with Ford-owned mobility company Spin to develop similar tires for electric scooters, and even makes mention of tackling the auto industry some time down the track.
“Shape memory alloys look extremely promising in revolutionizing the entire terrestrial tire industry,” says Santo Padula, a materials science engineer at NASA who helped develop the tire. "And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
Source: Smart Tire Company