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Key Takeaways

  • Smart tire technologies are helping city planners to envision new transportation schemes.
  • $342 billion will be spent on smart cities in 2016, and will double by 2021. Some of that will go into making roads smarter. Smarter roads need smarter cars, which need smarter tires.
  • A bold and unique spherical tire might change how get from Point A to Point B
  • Goodyear and Pirelli are leading the way in smart tire designs, and that’s where investors should look, though tire manufacturers still have more engineering work to accomplish.

The Rise of Autonomous Vehicles Demands Intelligent Tires

When you think about the city of the future, you expect futuristic vehicles on its roads. We’re already seeing some versions of them: Sometime in 2019, General Motors will launch its version of autonomous vehicles, making cars without steering wheels a common sight.

That already seems pretty futuristic, but think a little deeper. Vehicles that advanced will need tires which are equally innovative. There’s an enormous market for tires in general: The world may need as much as 8 billion new tires over the next 20 years.

As cars get smarter, however, the old rolling rubber donuts underneath them have an expiration date not too far in the future. Enter the world of tires connected by magnetic levitation, using neural networks, and covered with bionic skins.

Why? Well, picture the problem. Today’s roads are typically straight lines with occasional curves. They need to be that way, well, because tires can only go forwards and backwards.

That’s fine for regular cars, but self-driving cars will likely pioneer a new flexibility in which vehicles can move sideways and diagonally as well.

A concept tire by Goodyear is a spherical tire than can go in any direction, like marbles. They’re specifically designed for autonomous cars and attach to the axle using magnetic levitation. Remember their name: Goodyear Eagle 360 Urban tires.

Goodyear’s concept tires would be linked to neural networks that help maintain both traffic safety and flow.

Best of all for cities and consumers increasingly focused on environmentally sustainable technology: These tires won’t be built with rubber derived from petroleum, as today’s tires are. Instead, they’ll be made of super-elastic 3-D printed polymer, covered by a bionic skin. Goodyear’s not alone in pursuit of smart tires. Rival Pirelli, for example, plans to bring artificial intelligence smarts into every tire, helping them assess road conditions. In fact, Pirelli’s tires are likely to land earlier, as they’re geared to all cars and not just autonomous ones. What we do know: This is a technology that’s moving fast. As we’ve seen with driverless vehicles, a transition to a new auto technology will take years, not decades.

Of course, there’s still much that we don’t know about bold new tire designs like the Goodyear Eagle 360 tires. Will they stand up to long-term use? Will they be affordable? And can Goodyear make a profit on them if they have to be priced low-enough to keep total vehicle costs in check? The answers are unclear, but this glimpse into smart cities, smart roads, and yes, smart tires, helps us peer into how we’ll get around in the next decade.