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SMART x NASA airless, shape-shifting alloy tires bring Mars lander tech to road bikes

smart metl alloy bicycle tires from nasa
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Exactly…WTF?!? The Smart Tire Company has announced their new, aluminum alloy tire technology that’s based on the same research and designs as tires created for the Mars lander…and they’re for your bicycle.

Co-founded by Survivor champ Earl Cole and blockchain engineer Brian Yennie, The SMART Tire Company teamed with NASA Glenn Research Center inventors Dr. Santo Padula and Colin Creager to bring shape memory alloy (SMA) tire technology to the bike. It’s called METL, and it’s about to rock. Or, um, roll.

closeup of woven memory metal tires for road bikes created by smart bicycle technology and nasa

Originally invented by NASA for use on the lunar and Mars rover missions, it has the ability to “undergo phase transitions at the molecular level under strain”, making SMAs unlike any other material, exhibiting thirty times the recoverable strain of ordinary steel. They say they’re also eco-friendly, utilizing longer-lasting materials that reduce rubber waste.

What is this magic material?

SMART says the material (called NiTinol+) can expand, contract, bend, and unbend very quickly, like rubber. Even with extreme deformation, it will bounce back to its exact original shape through “phase transitions at the molecular level”. Like Iron Man’s nano tech suit, perhaps?

The material has a gold/silver/metallic blue finish and is “elastic like rubber, yet strong like titanium” with perfect shape memory.

That shape memory comes from blending titanium with a Martensite steel material. The name, METL, stands for Martensite Elasticized Tubular Loading. Here’s their description:

“Martensite is a very hard form of steel crystalline structure. When a shape memory alloy is in martensite form at lower temperatures, the metal can easily be deformed into any shape. When heat-treated a certain way, the martensite reverts to austenite, and the material recovers its original shape, giving it super-elastic properties.”

Check the video at the bottom of this post for a much deeper dive on how that actually works…it’s fascinating!

Could metal bicycle tires work?

smart metl memory metal bicycle tires using nasa technology

Well, the big question is grip, and we’ll get to that. But first, let’s lay out the benefits…

METL’s alloy, shapeshifting tires could be lighter. Weight going onto a spacecraft is at a premium, costing six figures per ounce, so the material has to be incredibly light. And this one is, especially from a strength-to-weight ratio perspective.

It won’t need a tube, or sealant, and will never go flat, either. This, along with the material’s properties, means it can deform rapidly to match the terrain perfectly, allowing for better traction.

OK, so how does it grip?

felt aero road bike with smart metl shapeshifting memory metal bicycle tires installed

The metal will be coated in a new “rubber-like material” called Polyurethanium, which was co-developed with Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company (not Goodyear bicycle tires, which is actually totally separate). They say the material offers extremely long-lasting tread and grip in all weather conditions.

Indeed, they’re claiming this is a life-of-the-bike tire that shouldn’t ever need replacing. The grip might, though, so they’ll offer a retreading service. And should you damage the structure underneath, they can likely repair it. If not, it can be recycled.

The Polyurethanium will feel kind of like a rubber material, and will actually coat the metal mesh so it’ll look more like a regular tire…and won’t let debris get inside. However, the metal lattice underneath handles all of the load bearing. The material over it is purely for protection and grip, so there’s no need for thick sidewalls or layers of puncture protection.

Does it work?

They say so, and Felt Bicycles has provided them with bikes to test it on. Eventually, SMART says the technology could be used for almost any type of vehicle. And, naturally, any type of bicycle, from road to gravel to mountain bikes, and especially commuter and e-bikes.

Here’s an interesting look at the development, how it works (science!), and why (besides weight) they can’t use rubber tires off-world:

Initially, they’ll probably sell them as a wheel+tire combo, but the long-term plan is that they’ll work on any rim. Right now, they’re still in testing with a target retail launch in first quarter 2022… surprisingly soon!

SmartTireCompany.com

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23 Comments
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Joenomad
Joenomad
1 year ago

Perfect for doing Triathlons on Mars!

Joe Bond
Joe Bond
1 year ago
Reply to  Joenomad

Lower gravity and atmospheric pressure would make for high speed and airy bike riding on Mars.

Tony P
Tony P
1 year ago

I can’t imagine this “tire” to be lighter than current air. But I was turned down for a job by NASA because I am too stupid. So who knows

Ti Cloreen
Ti Cloreen
1 year ago

Nasa.. everywhere but space.

Cheese
Cheese
1 year ago

“blending titanium with a Martensite steel”
Not steel, nickel. What austinitic transformation temperature did they choose? The tires will stay crushed below this temperature.

bmx
bmx
1 year ago

This space tyre was originally developed for wide ranging temperatures and pressure variations hence no gas to worry about expanding or contracting. not really needed on a earth bound fred sled.

Deputy Dawg
Deputy Dawg
1 year ago

Wouldn’t mind getting that flat repair kit out of my back pocket……..

Allen
Allen
1 year ago
Reply to  Deputy Dawg

You can just take it out of your pocket… and strap it literally anywhere. No space tires needed

fabiano
fabiano
1 year ago

thinking about sh**tty accidents

ap
ap
1 year ago

I didn’t see mention of rolling resistance. It seems that this could offer a benefit there.

The biggest question I have is the durability and grip of the coating. It seems like some sort of user serviceable retread option would make sense. This structure could take the place of the tube and sidewall, but traditional tread could be replaced. Not sure what that mechanism looks like for attachment and removal. I suppose you could go to extremely light sidewalls and use this as a “tube”.

It’s easy to dis’ new tech like this, but I applaud the endeavor.

Charlie
Charlie
1 year ago

Not bad if you’ve going 0.1 mph max (really), carrying a helicopter that collects dust for 30+ days (they’re not saying) before testing. I was excited when I saw the landing, but they sure know how to kill the public’s interest.

ilja
1 year ago

“blockchain engineer Brian Yennie”? Blockchain as in snake oil. Thanks, I’ll pass on this…

roddy
roddy
1 year ago
Reply to  ilja

Yes, you should pass on things that you don’t understand.

palleus
1 year ago

UCI has pre-emptively banned them over concerns about the tires coming apart in a crash and stitching disc brake lacerations closed

ceotown
ceotown
1 year ago

Just don’t forget to stir the tanks

Robin
Robin
1 year ago

Ti Cloreen, you apparently don’t pay much attention to everything that NASA does.

Ti Cloreen
Ti Cloreen
1 year ago
Reply to  Robin

I know NASA can’t get back to the Moon but allegedly can get the Mars… Ill start paying more attention to The Big Bang Theory and Star Trek. They’ll teach me everything l need to know (-:

James Walker
1 year ago

I guess if you brake hard then you’ll get sparks flying off behind you which will look pretty cool! 😉

Hexsense
Hexsense
1 year ago

A gravel version would be interesting.
The surface is not very different from Mars, I guess.

Crash Bandicoot
Crash Bandicoot
1 year ago

Bad representation for Felt, is the blockchain entrepreneur a son of someone high up in a PE firm? Only explanation, the bike looks like a mess and the tires on the TT bike are lumpy for god’s sake! This is dumb even for the cycling industry which is an industry that sells ceramic jockey wheels to save 3 watts to people that can’t even break 60 minutes in a 40k TT

MBR
MBR
1 year ago

I know high-tech eventually trickles down to the lowly consumer for mass consumption, but I suspect current pricing is at least two orders of magnitude higher than the most expensive tire currently on the market.
And isn’t anybody wondering what would happen if you rode on dirt/clay? I’m wondering how the heck one would clean the interior of the tire?

Steven Dallas
Steven Dallas
1 year ago

Mud? Small gravel? Trapped inside the tire rattling around?

Ed Llorca
Ed Llorca
1 year ago

These guys are so advanced they are 13 days early on this april fools post. Color me SCEPTICAL on multiple levels. And even if I got interested the “tires” are wrapped in a final coating of unaffordium so no dice.

If I ever go to mars I’ll call them.

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