Cyclists could soon find themselves with the option to choose spaceworthy tires claimed to eliminate the risk of getting a puncture.
Two tires made with the same materials being researched by NASA for future lunar and Martian rover missions, have won innovation awards at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
The “shape memory alloy” technology was developed by airless tire company SMART Tire in collaboration with NASA’s Glenn Research Center thanks to the Space Act Agreement’s startup program. Together they researched memory metals with a view to developing a tire capable of standing up to the harsh conditions of space.
World’s first high performance, airless, bicycle tire made with space-age materials originally developed at @nasa soon available for all, here on Earth! #neverflat #lightweight #lowrollingresistance #sustainable #affordable #beautiful #smart pic.twitter.com/onyqBTZpUX— The SMART Tire Company (@SmartTire) June 20, 2022
SMART claim the result, styled the METL tire, is a puncture-proof tire that will last for years. METL tires won Honoree awards in two different CES categories: Vehicle Tech & Advanced Mobility and Sustainability, Eco-Design & Smart Energy.
Where does sustainability come in? The bicycle market is expanding worldwide and touted to grow 7.8% in the next decade. While people using pedal power instead of fossil fuel is to be welcomed, it’s worth noting that CO2 is released in significant quantities during the production of bicycle tires, as well as other hazardous compounds such as toxic solvents, resulting in toxic emissions. Waste is also an issue. Replacement tires make up 75% of the tire industry’s revenue according to SMART.
SMART’s founders, Brian Yennie and Earl Cole, say their new puncture-proof product will disrupt the industry.
Without pressurized air inside your tires, punctures are no longer a concern. Even large tears won’t slow these tires down: you could stick a kitchen knife right through and keep on riding because it’s not going to affect the structural integrity of the tire.Brian Yennie, SMART Tire founder
Coming to market first is the company’s METL bicycle tire, but the business plan includes expansion into e-mobility scooters and eventually METL car tires.
According to Yennie, the tire could have an important automotive safety role to play. He highlighted that “20 percent of roadside emergencies involve a tire issue, and the vast majority of those are due to a loss of pressure or improper inflation.”
A tire that could be used in space and eliminates the need for other tires sounds as if it should be expensive, but Yennie told Interesting Engineering that SMART has slashed material costs for the prototype bicycle tire by over 85% in a year. Prices published on the company’s website indicate the METL tire will enter the market at around $100-150. First orders are due to be taken in the first quarter of 2023.