This certainly isn’t new news, but the other day I was telling a friend about it and realized that most people still haven’t heard of the Michelin Tweel (Tire/WhEEL), an airless, integrated tire and wheel combination.
Michelin had this concept in development since 1995, and claim that it’s the future of tire technology with the potential to be in use on our roads by the mid 2010’s.
As you can see from the following video, tweels have been prototyped on everything from cars to Segways to Caterpillars. They look quite strange to me, but apparently they offer quite a few radical benefits such as increased comfort and safety.
The flexible spokes are fused with a flexible wheel that deforms to absorb shock and rebound with unimaginable ease. Without the air needed by conventional tires, Tweel still delivers pneumatic-like performance in weight-carrying capacity, ride comfort, and the ability to Ã¢â‚¬Å“envelopeÃ¢â‚¬Â road hazards. By varying the thickness and size of the spokes, Michelin can also generate a wide array of ride and handling qualities.
Michelin has also found that it can tune Tweel performances independently of each other, which is a significant change from conventional tires. This means that vertical stiffness (which primarily affects ride comfort) and lateral stiffness (which affects handling and cornering) can both be optimized, pushing the performance envelope in these applications and enabling new performances not possible for current inflated tires.
The Tweel prototype, demonstrated on the Audi A4 in the following video, is within five percent of the rolling resistance and mass levels of current pneumatic tires. That translates to within one percent of the fuel economy of the OE fitment. Additionally, Michelin has increased the lateral stiffness by a factor of five, making the prototype unusually responsive in its handling.
Michelin won a Gold Medal for Innovation at Intermat 2006 for the Tweel.