SMART, a startup co-founded by “Survivor: Fiji” champion Earl Cole and engineer Brian Yennie, is set to launch a new product based on the innovations of NASA: an airless bicycle tire.
In partnership with NASA through the Space Act Agreement, SMART has developed their METL tire. It is the first fruit of the startup’s collaboration with NASA’s Glenn Research Center, where NASA engineers Dr. Santo Padula and Dr. Colin Creager first came up with their so-called “shape memory allow” (SMA) technology.
SMA allows for a tire made entirely of interconnected springs, which doesn’t require inflation. This means that it’s also resistant to punctures but can still give equivalent or better traction when juxtaposed to inflatable rubber tires. These airless tires also come with shock-absorbing capabilities.
These high-performance airless bicycle tires are coated with a special rubber-like material that works great on Earth roads.
Dr. Padula and Dr. Creager created an alloy that can return to its shape at a molecular level. In other words, it can deform to adapt to uneven terrain and revert to its original form without losing its structural integrity over time.
The METL tire is set to become available to the general public by 2022. After that, SMART aims to bring SMA tires to the automotive and commercial vehicle markets as well.
As much as we try to be careful, we all get flat tires. And it’s not just a nuisance; it’s also a safety hazard—tire failures are responsible for 20% of roadside emergencies. According to the NHTSA, there are over 11,000 tire-related crashes annually. Under-inflated tires also reduce fuel efficiency.
SMART aims to provide a solution to this problem with its SMA tires. Without the need for air pressure, these tires are safer and require less maintenance than traditional rubber tires.
The tire industry is also incredibly wasteful. Every year, more than 50 billion pounds of used tires end up as waste, which goes into landfills or is burned in tire yards. Additionally, 20 to 30% of microplastics in the ocean come from tires.
If you’re worried about the durability of an SMA tire, SMART says that it’s “elastic like rubber, yet strong like titanium.” It features a radial design that can support a whopping 20,000 pounds with a single tire!
These airless tires can also last the vehicle’s lifetime or even longer, saving billions of pounds of waste and maintenance.
According to Car & Driver Magazine: “The advantages of this type of tire are obvious. Not only does it eliminate potential issues with temperature or pressure affecting a gas-filled tire, it also eliminates the possibility of deflation.”
SMART has partnered with multiple industry leaders to develop products that can address real-world problems. One of them is Felt Bicycles, a company known for its high-performance bicycles. As the startup’s strategic partner, they will have a hand in developing the first METL bicycle tire.
Another SMART partner is Spin Mobility, an entity owned by Ford Motor Company. The third largest rental fleet will contribute to the development of eBike technologies and electric scooter tires.
If you’d like to know more about this NASA-invented technology, you may visit the Smart Tire Company website. You can also join the waitlist for METL bicycle tires here.
The invention and widespread use of these airless tires will greatly help our environment and save bike and vehicle owners money in the long run. If we use less, we waste less—and that is true for the SMART tire and its components.
Here is University of Akron’s research associate professor Heather Oravec explaining the mechanism behind the SMA tire.
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