Four years ago, back in 2017, Michelin announced a prototype of 3D printed tyre (watch the clip) that was just awesome, promising to reinvent the whole business.
The 3D printing made possible to create a structure that was as strong as today’s tyres but lighter. Additionally, such a tyre would resist punctures (you’ll never again get a “flat” tyre) and it was easy to replace the outer rubber by just re-printing it on the old one. Since one could re-print the rubber it becomes possible to print it with the best shape to suit your driving style and weather condition: you would have a certain grooves pattern in winter and a different one in summer, another person might want to have a groove pattern suited for heavy rain (rain season) and a different one for the dry season.
Four years have gone by and I still use the same type of tyres on my car. I guess the problem, as it is usually the case with innovation, is how to move, in an affordable way, from the prototype to an industrial product.
Now I saw that Goodyear has announced the result of a three year testing of 3D printed non-pneumatic (airless) tyres. The testing has shown that this new tyres demonstrate the required durability, handling and cost effectiveness that can bring them into the process of industrial manufacturing.
However, it should be noticed that the tyre has been designed, and tested, to operate in a urban environment, that is a low to moderate speed. It may not be suited for the higher speed on highways. This is why Goodyear and Michelin are not planning to see these tyres replacing today’s tyres anytime soon.
In urban transportation they can be useful, decreasing maintenance cost. A little bit more “futuristic” is the vision of Goodyear to fill the tyre structure with moss. As the car moves around the moss picks up CO2 and release Oxygen, that is why they have called their research project on the new tyre Oxygen.