The SMART Tire Company has revealed its first space-age tire, soon to be available to the general public. Already tested by NASA for use on Mars Rover missions, these tires come equipped with the company’s Shape Memory Alloy Radial Technology (SMART), made from the super-elastic material NiTinol+.
While regular elastic can stretch, smart memory metal goes a step further by rearranging its molecular structure when bent and then immediately resuming its former shape. Thus, these tires never lose air, never go flat and have strength like titanium.
Such tires present many uses here on Earth, including an alternative to pneumatic bicycle tires that promises a light, durable and smooth riding experience. In fact, these tires can enhance safety through improved traction for commuters on concrete and gravel roads alike.
The tires even use a synthetic, rubber-like material called Polyurethanium for the strongest grip and tread in all weather conditions. In other words, these SMART tires can last the entire lifetime of your bike without ever needing a replacement due to leaks, tears, messy sealants or punctures.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about these new tires is that they are manufactured by NASA. Indeed, the SMART Tire Company has also collaborated with the Ford Motor Company’s micromobility provider Spin to develop this shape memory alloy for electric scooters. The two companies seek to combine efforts in creating an easier and securer transportation experience for consumers.
Moreover, tires made of this material exhibit 30 times the recoverability rate of ordinary steel under strain. Looking back on why NASA first developed this tire and its corresponding material gives an idea why such durability was necessary.
As a component of the Mars Rover wheels, this alloy had to be capable of withstanding harsh terrain and cratered topology on the red planet’s surface. In fact, the tires were effectively designed to act as shock absorbers to protect the Rover’s internal systems against jagged rocks.
Deemed METL, this space-age shape memory alloy will challenge the $250 billion international tire market in realizing a cleaner, safer solution for bicycle and scooter tires as well as the wheel at large.
For now, The SMART Tire Company aims to release these tires to the cycling community in early 2022 before moving on to the auto industry and beyond.
A company founded by a “Survivor:Fiji” winner and built on technology originally developed for NASA’s various space rovers is the latest to give it a go. The Smart METL tires are, as the name suggests, made of metal, specifically, a nickel-titanium alloy called NiTinol+ arranged in a series of interconnected loops or springs that looks a bit like medieval chainmail.
The material itself is the key innovation. It’s a “shape memory alloy” created by NASA engineers Dr. Santo Padula and Colin Creager and is capable of deforming and returning to shape without losing structural integrity. The material and design were developed for to NASA’s Mars rovers, which need to function on a planet too cold for rubber tires.
The material and chainlink design allow the tire to deform over obstacles like a pneumatic tire, then return to its original shape. It’s immune to punctures, of course, and the company also claims the design is more environmentally friendly relative to the “50 billion pounds [25 million tonnes] of toxic waste” that the Smart says the traditional tire industry generates annually.
Smart licensed the tech via the Space Act Agreement, which is intended to help NASA technology trickle out into the commercial world. The company shifted focus to bike tires and already has a partnership with Spin, a micromobility company owned by Ford. Testing is currently being conducted on a fleet of bikes provided by Felt.