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Michelin unveils Vision, a proof of concept tire that uses biodegradable materials and 3D printing to its advantage. These sleek looking tires won’t be available for a while (Photo from Michelin)

 

The other day I was crushing a 3D printed part in a vice to see how strong it was. Some prints are crazy-strong, especially when they’re made of Delrin or ABS. I thought it would be cool to have a 3D printed bicycle tire. A loose idea for the IoT on Wheels Design Challenge I was thinking about. But, Michelin too it even further than I was imagining!

 

It seems like every product is turning into a smart device: cars with park assist, refrigerators with touchscreens, and systems like Google Home that can control elements of your house. But ever think about how an ordinary car tire can be smarter? Michelin shows they’re ahead of the game with their new concept tire, Vision. The tire looks like something out of a sci-movie with its blue webbed design and sleek appearance. The tire is set with various environmentally friendly features along with some abstract ideas. Right now Vision is just a proof of concept, so don’t expect to order a set yet. Making its debut in the States last week, Vision shows off various features that the company hopes will work its way down into future mass-market tires.

 

It looks good, but what exactly makes it different? For one, Vision is a wheel and an airless tire. Because the entire mechanical structure is strong enough to support a car, it doesn’t need rims. It’s also flexible enough to absorb impact and pressure meaning there’s no need for inflation. Imagine not having to dread driving over a ragged road or keeping a spare tire in case of a random blowout. This structure isn’t entirely new. Some of the company’s existing tires, like ones for golf carts, use similar structures.

 

Not only are the tires strong, but they’re environmentally friendly as well. Similar to traditional tires, Vision is made of rubber, but it comes from compounds from organic, recyclable materials. For example, the resin uses orange zest instead of petroleum. Other materials used to make the tire includes natural rubber, bamboo, paper, tin cans, wood, and plastic. So once the tire is unusable, the whole thing can be recycled instead of sitting in dumpsters. The attempt to go green is notable, but it will be a while before whole production lines make tires using organic materials.

 

Another issue traditional tires face is tread degradation. Over time, tire treads wear down due to friction. Vision overcomes this by using 3D printers to repair the read as needed. Michelin envisions 3D printing being useful if you need a new tread pattern for different terrains and environments. Built in sensors in the tire monitor help you keep track of tread wear along with giving you real time information about performance and maintenance via a companion app. This is also how you order 3D printed tread replacements.

 

It all sounds promising and useful, but since this is a proof of concept, we won’t be seeing Vision on the road anytime soon. Hopefully, we can look forward to some of these elements in our standard tires as Michelin aims to do. For now, it’s best to keep that spare tire in the trunk for emergencies.

 

 

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