Although we've seen a lot of interesting ideas regarding what may be powering or guiding the cars of the future, it seems that those vehicles' tires don't fire the imagination in quite the same way. Korean tire manufacturer Hankook is trying to change that, however, with its Hankook Tyre Design Challenge. Here's a look at the student-submitted concepts that took the top prizes in this year's contest.

Held every two years, the competition calls upon students from a given international university to submit concepts for tires that could find use on futuristic (yet feasible) vehicles. Those concepts must address factors such as reducing the amount of raw materials required for their production, recyclability, rolling efficiency, and "adherence to certain performance targets."

This year's Challenge saw Hankook partnering with the University of Design, Engineering and Business in Pforzheim, Germany. Students from the university's Master of Arts course for Transportation Design created their concepts throughout one semester. The winning entries were recently announced at the Essen Motor Show.

1st Prize – "Dakar" by Samir Sadikov

This concept is intended for use in Dakar-style endurance races, in which vehicles are required to travel both on- and off-road. Instead of incorporating a tread consisting of one continuous piece of rubber, the tire is made up of individual interlocking hexagonal blocks, each one holding its own air.

When driving on-road, the blocks all sit snugly up against one another, creating a smooth tread with low rolling resistance. Once the vehicle goes off-road, however, they spread apart – exactly how they do so isn't stated, although it obviously involves a purpose-built wheel. This creates a knobbier tread, with more rolling resistance but also better traction.

As an added bonus, if any of the blocks should get punctured, it can be replaced on the spot without having to replace the entire tire.

2nd Prize – "Vent Tyre" by Andreas Hartl

In order to minimize the chances of hydroplaning on wet roads, this concept incorporates a tread that has both solid rubber sections for traction, and open "vented" areas that are spanned by a series of horizontal rubber blades. The basic idea is that as the wheel turns, those blades allow it to act like a turbine, drawing water into channels inside of the tire and then expelling it out the sides.

3rd Prize – "Konzept Winter" by Lucia Lee

Not wildly unlike the Dakar concept, this one also involves a tire/wheel made up of individual sections that sit flush with one another for regular use, and then spread apart for extra traction when required. In this case, that traction is intended specifically to allow the vehicle to make its way through snow.

As the 14 hinged polyurethane sections of the tire spread apart, the circumference of the wheel also increases. This lifts the vehicle up, thus giving it more ground clearance and lessening the chances of it getting bogged down in the white stuff – presumably the car would be built with roomy wheel wells, that could accommodate the tires in their larger state.

Hankook has posted the other nine entries on the competition website, which is linked below. They include concepts for tires that laser-project 3D images ahead of the car, allow users to swap in different tread elements in a Lego block-like fashion, and that produce a graphic representation of the road surface within the car's cabin.

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