DETROIT (Jan 10)—Michelin North America Inc. executives are touting the firm's "Tweel" non-pneumatic integrated tire/wheel unit as the next revolution in transportation mobility, although the revolution is starting rather modestly—with a fitment on a Segway-inspired stair-climbing wheelchair.
"Major revolutions in mobility may come along only once in a hundred years," Terry Gettys, president of Michelin Americas Research and Development Center said at a news conference at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, "but a new century has dawned, and Tweel has proved its potential to transform mobility."
"Tweel enables us to reach levels of performance that quite simply aren't possible with today's conventional pneumatic technology," he said.
The Tweel uses a network of elastomeric polyurethane spokes fused to a wheel hub and a circular outer flat rim to replace the casing, beads and sidewall structures as the load-bearing element. The outer surface of the Tweel rim is covered with a more conventional rubber tread.
Without the air needed by conventional tires, Tweel still delivers pneumatic-like performance in weight-carrying capacity, ride comfort and the ability to "envelope" road hazards, Michelin claims. The design is covered by at least two patents.
The first larger-scale commercial application could be for skid-steer and similar civilian and/or military vehicles, but a first-generation passenger car prototype has showed considerable potential as well, Gettys said, prompting the firm to go public with it.
The Tweel was designed and developed by engineers at the R&D center in Greenville, S.C., based on lessons learned from work on the firm's Zero Pressure run-flat pneumatic tires, said Bart Thompson, the lead engineer on the project at MARC.