Materials engineers at NASA have just created an exciting new tire that could help to improve transport over rough, extraterrestrial terrain. Jumping off of the original concept that helped the moon buggy zip around on the surface of the Moon, metal wheels with steel springs, the team is applying new advances in materials science. The result is a new type of metal spring tire made of a nickel-titanium alloy instead of steel.
This alloy allows the material to rearrange on an atomic level as opposed to deforming. When the new alloy is stressed, it can snap back into its original configuration, which is why it is known as a “memory alloy.” This new wheel is not meant for use on Earth but in the future, there could be terrestrial applications with the help of friction causing coatings.
Along with potential, future Earth applications for the technology, there may also be new alloys that could give these wheels new properties. Perhaps these various alloys could also help to bring a new generation of puncture-proof tires here to our planet.
Humans are gearing up to start expanding our presence to other nearby celestial bodies. Elon Musk is planning to put humans on the red planet in the near future, while space mining continues to get closer to becoming a reality. These pioneers in space travel and exploration are going to need technology to help them succeed on their various, ambitious missions.
Tire manufacturer Michelin is also working on updating their products with a concept for a 3D printed tire that would never need replacing. Within this concept, once tire treads wear out, they could simply be reprinted.
Usually, reinventing the wheel is used as a metaphor for wasting time and resources to create something that already exists. But in the case of these tires, progress dictates that we re-imagine the possibilities of this simple invention.