Space agencies like to point out that the advanced technologies they develop frequently find applications that improve the daily lives of people here on Earth, too. In this case, an innovation from NASA aims to introduce an airless alloy tire to the world of cycling.
The startup SMART Tire Company, in partnership with NASA, has developed a superelastic tire technology that uses a shape memory alloy (SMA). The airless, non-pneumatic tire design was originally envisioned for Martian and lunar rovers.
The first consumer product derived from this technology will be the METL, a bicycle tire that will be available in road, gravel, mountain bike, and electric bike versions. With the elasticity of rubber and the strength of titanium, these bicycle tires could become a permanent part of vehicles, outlasting other equipment without the need for regular maintenance.
Made from a special advanced material, NiTinol+, a shape memory alloy (SMA), the METL tires can travel safely over rocky and sandy terrain. The wires are woven together to create an airless tire structure that has the ability to flex with the terrain, unlike current rigid wheels.
The SMA material acts as a shock absorber and can traverse rock-laden terrain effortlessly without breaking or damaging the tire. According to the company, even with extreme deformation, the tire regains 100% of its shape through phase transitions at the molecular level.
This polyurethane-coated structure offers rubber-like properties, but its grip and durability appear to be far superior in all weather conditions. In addition to eliminating the dangers of pesky punctures, these shape memory wheels offer 30 times the recoverable strain of steel and should be long-lasting. They also claim that this material is environmentally friendly due to its great durability and the non-use of rubber.
Although it looks like a very light tire at first glance, the truth is that there is no declared weight, and the brand limits itself to saying that it will be very competitive with most conventional alternatives. Also, there is no further information on availability or pricing at this time, but SMART Tire Company has expected to hit the market in 2022.