Goodyear’s Awesome New Spherical Tire Design For Autonomous Cars

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What will the cars of the future be like?

It’s fun to imagine how new technologies and design trends will influence future cars. Car bodies of the future might be completely 3D printed. They may be completely autonomous — and now, they might have multi-directional spherical tires.

Goodyear’s new “Eagle-360” spherical tire concept, recently unveiled at the Geneva International Motor Show, would allow cars of the future to move in all directions by using magnetic levitation, rather than axles, to suspend the tires under the car body.

While this is still firmly a concept, it seems Goodyear just got a bit closer to designing the car Will Smith’s character drives in I, Robot.

Reinventing the wheel

Forget lining your car up with the side mirror of another car and inching back and forth until you finally fit into a parallel parking spot. With spherical tires, you’d just slide in sideways. But since your car will likely drive itself at this point, you wouldn’t even have to worry about it.

Still, the design’s spherical shape would increase a car’s maneuverability on the road and improve its ability to quickly avoid surprising obstacles.

Magnetic levitation

Spherical tires aren’t a totally new idea. But how do you attach them to the car and still allow free movement in all directions (which is the point)? Goodyear has a futuristic answer. Why bother attaching them to the car at all, when you can simply keep them in place with magnets?

Since there would be no physical contact between the goodyear-eagle-360-mag-levwheels and car body in this design, we imagine the ride would be much smoother than we’re used to today.

But Goodyear officials don’t give much information on how exactly the magnetic levitation would work, other than comparing the design to the way a magnetic levitation train works.

These trains use electrically charged magnets to lift train cars anywhere from a fraction of an inch to a few inches above the tracks. Once the train car is hovering above the tracks, electricity supplied through coils in the tracks creates magnetic fields that move the train.  Since these trains float frictionlessly above the tracks, they can reach speeds of over 300 mph.

Might magnetic levitation work in cars? We’ll see.


Bio-inspired Design

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 9.25.53 AMInspired by brain coral and natural sponges, the 3D printed tire treads are designed to stiffen in dry conditions and soften when wet, like a sponge, to provide powerful control in all kinds of weather. Sensors in each tire could send data about road conditions to the other tires.

Muti-purpose spherical wheels? 

The designers of Tesla’s Model S were able to design the electric car in a way that frees up the space under the front hood, which traditionally houses the combustion engine in gasoline cars. The Goodyear designers might have something to learn here. Spherical wheels might offer untapped storage, at least according to one industrial designer thinking about the subject...

Rain Noe over at Core 77 writes, “What I'd really like to see is a provision for the wheels to be hollow and with some type of access hatch. That way you could fill one wheel with dirty laundry, some water and detergent, and by the time you arrive at your destination, boom, clean clothes! You could also insert peeled avocados, limes and some type of pestle in another wheel to create a delicious guacamole as you drive. The third wheel could be used for smoothies.”

We likely won’t see these wheels on the road for a while—even simpler tire concepts, like Bridgestone’s airless tires, are likely still a ways off.

Still such conceptualizing shows even big companies like Goodyear are thinking outside the box and incorporating new tools like 3D printing, sensors, and biomimetic design to build the future of their business. 

Here’s to dreaming about the self-driving, bio-mimicking, mag-lev cars of the future…

Image Credit: Goodyear 

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Sveta McShane

Sveta writes about the intersection of biology and technology (and occasionally other things). She also enjoys long walks on the beach, being underwater and climbing rocks. You can follow her @svm118.
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Discussion — 5 Responses

  • ideasware March 9, 2016 on 9:29 am

    3, not 4. It’s a beautiful thing, but the next evolution will only be 3 tires (3 tires is actually much more balanced and smooth than 4), and that will really give passengers the feel of a house, rather than a dilapidated old car — that’s so 20th century.

  • James Poirier March 9, 2016 on 12:41 pm

    Manhattan’s Ground Zero is the World Transportation Center (WTC), the epicenter of America’s new autonomous-car infrastructure.

  • DSM March 9, 2016 on 1:18 pm

    I like the idea but I don’t think they thought it through well enough because if the wheel/sphere “bottoms out” due to out-of-spec forces it could fail catastrophically. Also anything that stuck to the sphere would potentially end up jammed in that small clearance space and if it was ferromagnetic it would interfere with the drive system even if it did pass through.

    Normal wheels work because they are extremely robust, this idea looks less robust.

    As Laurie Anderson pointed out a long time ago when looking at VR, the problem with 3D graphics systems is that everything is clean, but in the real world it isn’t like that. Engineers need to have systems that have a “gunk” mode, to ground their designs in reality and show them where they may fail due to the many uncontrolled variables that reality contains, dirt, dust, gunk, trash, organic matter etc.

  • Takeshi Young March 9, 2016 on 3:17 pm

    Love the maneuverability, but how do you break?

    • DSM Takeshi Young March 9, 2016 on 3:37 pm

      Regenerative breaking, all electric motors can also be generators.