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Talking Tyre Tech

Wheels, alloys, and tyres are pretty mesmerizing things.  My mate’s dog thought they were biteable too, especially when moving.  He did manage to learn, eventually, that this wasn’t the smartest thing to do, and rather spent his time running alongside the car to welcome visitors instead.   

The wheel has been around for a wee while now, having first been thought to have been applied particularly well by the Sumerian people in 4000 BC, in the lower Mesopotamian regions, or what we know as modern-day Iraq.  These folk inserted rotating axles into solid discs of wood to move objects from A to B.  In 2000 BC, the discs began to be hollowed out to make a lighter wheel.  Nowadays we use wheels for all sorts of applications, not least for rolling ourselves from Point A to Point B in cars. 

I’m sure that the thought of using something soft for surrounding a wheel’s rim entered the mind of many an inventor or entrepreneur.  However, in 1847, it was the Scottish inventor Robert Thomson who patented the first standard pneumatic tire.  It wasn’t until 1888 that the first pneumatic tyre, made by John Dunlop (yes, as in Dunlop tyres), was able to be used as a practical application for bicycles.  He found that rubber was able to withstand wear and tear and retain its resilience when being used as a bicycle tyre.

The tyre as we know it now has advanced tremendously in its science, physiology, and even application.  Generally, a new tyre that we use on our cars today may contain up to 25 components and have as many as 12 different rubber compounds.  Rubber still comes from the rubber tree (Ficus elastica), where the basic component (liquid latex) is extracted from the tree and coagulated with acid.  It is then cleaned with water and pressed into bales, ready for all sorts of applications, including the tyre. 

New developments in tyre technology have been rather underwhelming recently; that is, until Michelin’s latest invention.  This exciting development by Michelin has potentially seen the pneumatic tyre being replaced by this new tyre technology.  The new Michelin Uptis tyre technology utilizes a non-pneumatic tyre that relies on modern composites.  The Michelin Uptis uses aluminium for the wheel, a combination of rubber for the tread, and a flexible load-bearing structure made from reinforced plastic with glass fibre that is used as the tyre’s substance for cushioning road imperfections on impact and coping with variable weight forces, while also maintaining the tyre’s rigidity when accelerating, braking, and cornering. 

This ‘substance’ as we know it in a conventional tyre is known as compressed air and the tyre wall, which all work together to maintain grip and the tyre’s structural strength, and to soften road undulations.  It is, however, prone to punctures.  So, instead of simply air pressure providing the right mix of stiffness, flexibility, and durability, like on our conventional tyres, the new Michelin Uptis prototype tyre uses clever yet simple new technology that will even eliminate the hassle of having a puncture. 

The Michelin Uptis airless tyre.

Michelin has recently said that this new tyre technology could also help reduce the cost of tyre replacement by up to 20%.  Michelin’s Uptis tyre technology has and is being tested, having been fitted to 50 DHL delivery vans in Singapore last year. 

Michelin Uptis tyres look pretty cool, too, because you can see right through the outer sidewall of the tyre to the other side and beyond, thanks to all the vacant spaces between the incredibly tough and elastic plastic pillars holding the integrity of the tyre together.