Anyone who has had to change a tire on the side of a busy road, possibly in the sweltering heat or pouring rain, will be longing for the day when flats are a thing of the past. Hankook has been working to make such a future a reality for over a decade now, and has used CES 2022 to show the latest version of its airless i-Flex concept tire.
To showcase the tire at CES, Hankook teamed up with fellow countryman Hyundai, fitting them to four large Plug & Drive (PnD) modules on the L7, a micro-mobility concept with infinite wheel rotation capabilities allowing it to change directions instantly, even in restricted spaces. As such the tire isn’t sized for cars, but was designed in a smaller 10-inch format tailored for such applications.
With a diameter of 400 mm (15.7 in) and width of 105 mm (4.1 in), the concept non-pneumatic tire (NPT) was developed based on biomimetic studies and testing to maximize shock absorption and load-bearing capabilities. The result is a multi-layer interlocking spoke design inspired by the cellular structure of living organisms that provides support in three dimensions for greater shock absorption, while hexagonal and tetragonal cell structures of different stiffnesses combine to provide stability under loads.
The tread also takes the L7’s ability to turn on a dime and freely switch directions into account, with a c-shaped concave tread profile designed to ensure maximum surface contact with the road to enhance safety. The pattern also mirrors the honeycomb design of the body of the tire.
In addition to making punctures – and the accidents they cause – a thing of the past, Hankook highlights the fact airless tires would be low maintenance, with no more need for tire pressure monitoring or pumping up flats, making them ideal for autonomous vehicles.
Unfortunately, Hankook hasn’t given a timeline for when you might be driving a car riding on its airless tires, saying that it is “continuing its research and development to make further improvements.” However, airless tires seem an inevitability, with competitors Michelin and Goodyear also making inroads.