An advanced tire technology developed by NASA for use on planetary rovers could be coming to a bike lane near you, with startup the Smart Tire Company leveraging the technology to introduce an airless alloy tire to the world of cycling. With the elasticity of rubber and the strength of titanium, these Metl tires promise a number of practical benefits, and mightn’t be limited to just bicycles for long.
The fancy tires were developed in partnership with NASA and are the first consumer-oriented application of its airless shape memory alloy (SMA) tire technology. In 2017, we looked at an example of this from NASA that could be used to help robust rovers endure difficult terrain on other planets, with engineers developing a nickel-titanium alloy mesh wheel that could be deformed right down to the axle and then snap back to its original shape.
The team behind Metl has leveraged this alloy’s ability to undergo phase transitions under strain to produce a next-gen bike tire that never needs inflating. Further to eliminating the dangers of pesky punctures, these shape memory wheels offer 30 times the recoverable strain of steel and should be long-lasting, possibly helping avoid the mountains of rubber waste generated by typical bicycle tires.