A Tyre That Lasts (Almost) Forever? Here, Take Our Money!
Our favourite engineers—those from NASA, of course—have gone and done it; they have reinvented the wheel, and have made them almost indestructible. Imagine car tyres that hardly wear, don’t require re-inflating and never get a puncture.
The Mars Rover has been roaming the fourth planet from the Sun for a couple of years now, and already the aluminium wheels are showing obvious wear, raising alarm bells on whether they will last until the Rover finishes its mission (fingers crossed). This meant that NASA had to relook into their tyre design if they ever want to send more machines (or Man) to the Moon or Mars.
Sometime in the mid-2000s, a NASA engineer developed a “spring tyre” made from coiled steel wire. The problem with the prototypes were they didn’t pass both the traction and durability tests—in other words, they needed to be able to move better over soft sand and last much longer. The solution was in a new material, a type of nickel titanium that the folks over at NASA Glenn call a “shape memory alloy”. What that means is the tyres can conform when stress is applied, making it easier to go over sharp rock and bumpy terrain, and then rearrange themselves back to their original structure (wa lah! good as new!).
If you like listening to engineers talk about the tyre like they are being interviewed on a late-night shopping channel, because we do, here is one of a series of videos from NASA Glenn:
So, how does this affect us earth-bound people? NASA has already demonstrated how the tyres can be used by “earth vehicles” (see the video below!). We can imagine just how much improved the suspension would be with tyres like that.
Hopefully, just like the memory foam, invisible braces and scratch-resistant lenses, amongst others, this NASA invention will find its way in some way, shape or form to us earthlings.