NASA has been developing metal tires at its Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, for more than seven years, spending “several million dollars” in the process. Now, the space-age tires made from NiTinol, a shape metal alloy made from nickel and titanium that springs back after being deformed, are about to cross over into the consumer space. The first application from The Smart Tire Company will be for bicycles.
First, more on NiTinol: While the original Lunar Rover used steel mesh wheels that were developed by Goodyear, size, weight and gravity concerns meant a new technology was required for rovers sent to roll over the surface of Mars. While most Mars rovers have used wheels milled from solid chunks of aluminum, including the current Perseverance Rover, future space buggies will likely use NiTinol. The same qualities that make these metal tires useful on Mars makes them ideal for certain terrestrial applications.
The first METL (Martensite Elasticized Tubular Loading, if you must know) tires are slated for commercial sale in the first quarter of 2022. They will be offered in gold, silver and metallic blue hues, and coated in a “long-lasting rubber-like tread” called Polyurethanium. These METL tires are expected to last the life of a bicycle, though the rubber coating may have to be reapplied every once in a while, and since there’s no pressurized air inside, flats won’t be a problem.
While bicycle tires will be the first commercial application, The Smart Tire Company has plans to branch out into other industries, including ATVs, cars and trucks. The company claims its tires are eco friendly because they cut down on the use of rubber, petroleum and other chemicals used in today’s tires and will last longer. They’ve already been tested on a Jeep Wrangler, as you can see in the video above. They’ve also partnered with Spin, the mobility subsidiary of Ford.