Ricardo Rodriguez
When Reinventing the Wheel is a Good Thing

With every deal there is always the topic of tires and wheels. Are they new, trade term, or recaps? But I learned that in the near future that question will be more complicated to answer. I’ll say it now: “Let’s not reinvent the wheel.” As technology advances, however, that phrase will become obsolete. Tire engineers have inquisitive minds that are not easily satisfied. I found that the latest developments in wheels are quite revolutionary.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been working on a “shape-shifting” wheel, which can change from round to a triangular shape on the go. This transition will help to maintain traction over any type of surface, adapting to the terrain as it moves. This wheel would transform the reach of any type of off-road vehicles like water tanks, logging, and mining trucks.

Engineers in Israel brought to market a wheel that incorporates shocks that would absorb vibration and shock from hard surfaces. Used now for wheelchairs and bicycles,these wheels could be scaled up for use on trucks that navigate the rough roads found in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

NASA created its own wheels for the rover that is exploring Mars. NASA first combined sophisticated metals capable of withstanding an alien environment. In the rover’s case, this included withstanding high strains and deformation without any air as buffer. Engineers created new pushing the envelope to create the use of “shape memory” alloys in the form of radial stiffeners to build the circular structure . The unbreakable

wheel was designed to never require service and has worked flawlessly for the last five years on the red planet. That rover wheel could change the world.

Tires take a lot of space to store, regardless of size. German designer Andrea Mocellin found a way to design a multi-purpose wheel that can be folded into a third of its original size. This approach could be scaled up from wheelchairs to motorcycles, cranes, and mobile equipment.In urban areas where storage it at a premium,vehicles equipped with this wheel would save valuable space.

Goodyear is pushing the design further and is testing a “ball” that would spin within an enclosure. This spherical “wheel” is powered by artificial intelligence. It can “sense, decide, transform, and interact” with the surface to provide the best contact patch and grip possible at all times. Still in the concept stage, this wheel is being presented to many automotive manufacturers that are designing the autonomous vehicles of tomorrow.

The one still too futuristic for me is the “printed” on demand tire that Michelin is working on. The wheel will be 3D printed from a bio-sourced material and will mimic the cellular structures of natural sea coral. If you ever held coral in your hand you know that this living creature is a marvel of natural “technology”. Can you imagine eliminating all inventory and being able to create the right thread on demand?

Over the last 10,000 years we got used to a type of wheel. And although many of us subscribe to the “if it’s right don’t fix it ” motto,” young engineers have proven to us that it is worth to think out of the box and look for answers to questions we’ve yet to ask.