Designed By NASA For Mars Rovers, These Airless Bike Tires Will Never Go Flat

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What would it be like to know you could ride your bike or e-bike virtually everywhere without the fear of a flat tire? Patching a flat isn’t that difficult, but it is kind of a pain in the asphalt, and it does require having the tools and pump with you to take care of it on the side of the road or trail. And sure, tire liners and tire slime can greatly reduce the chances of a flat tire stranding you, but what if you could avoid all flats?

One company might have the solution to that dilemma, as it is building a flat-proof non-pneumatic tire, using NASA-designed materials that were originally envisioned for use on Mars rovers. The SMART Tire Company’s METL™ tire is said to deliver a smooth ride and have “superior handling & durability.” The METL tire is made from Shape Memory Alloy Radial Technology (SMART), a superelastic material called NiTinol+, which “rearranges its molecular structure when you bend it, but instantly goes back to its original shape, perfectly.”

The technology for these airless tires came from NASA, where researchers were working toward developing a “Mars-grade material.”

“NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland developed a superelastic tire technology that uses a shape memory alloy (SMA). The airless, non-pneumatic tire design was originally envisioned for Martian and lunar rovers. Still under development at Glenn for space applications, SMA tires can travel safely over rocky and sandy terrain. The wires are woven together to create an airless tire structure that has the ability to flex with the terrain, unlike current rigid wheels. The SMA material acts as a shock-absorber and can traverse rock-laden terrain effortlessly without breaking or damaging the tire.”

Here’s a quick look at the evolution of the original nitinol technology, thanks to The Verge:

Through NASA Startup Studio, which partners entrepreneurs directly with NASA technologies that are ready for commercialization, the SMART Tire Co. was able to pick up the ball and run with it, so to speak, and the company’s first product is a bicycle tire, which was recently the focus of a crowdfunding campaign.

“We’re building a bicycle tire first, because it allows us to build core capabilities and put an extremely cool product in people’s hands more quickly. That said, everything we are doing to develop our METL™ bike tires, is part of a greater strategy to mass market SMART tires. Also, we just think it’s a really great product that speaks for itself.” — Brian, Co-founder

The SMART Tire Co. recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign for its METL tire, where backers could get a set of bike tires, which are said to be good for 8,000 miles and can be retreaded for about $10, for a $500 pledge. The tire has also been named one of TIME’s Best Inventions of 2023, and has earned a pair of CES 2023 Innovation Awards.

Here’s how the company describes its airless bike tire:

SMART Tire has a patented load-bearing design that takes advantage of the unique properties of shape memory alloys. These special metals can expand, contract, bend or unbend at a very rapid rate (like rubber) and with so much force that it can move heavy objects. Even with extreme deformation, the tire regains 100% of its shape through phase transitions at the molecular level.

Soon, tires will become a permanent part of vehicles, outlasting other equipment without the need for regular maintenance. A light, flexible, space-age metal that never goes flat, but still rides smooth, will be a critical component in the future of transportation (i.e. electric & autonomous vehicles).

The SMART Tire Co. website claims the company aims to be “the Tesla of the tire industry” and is actively seeking investors through WeFunder.

Images: The SMART Tire Company

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