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Unstoppable! Airless tire will never go flat

Posting in Design

As much as big tire companies like to sell you more and more tires, they know that there'd be huge demand for ones that don't go flat.

That's why eight years ago Michelin introduced the Tweel, an experimental tire that features an airless outer band wrapped around a complex network of flexible polyurethane spokes. This approach allowed the wheel to sense and adjust to the road terrain while also maintaining strength and support. In 2011, Bridgestone unveiled their own version that features a lattice-style array of thermoplastic spokes. Both, however, have been beset by drawbacks such as loud noise (Tweel) and durability issues (Bridgestone airless), which are currently being ironed out prior to any kind of widespread market roll-out.

Polaris, a much lesser known manufacturer, has since thrown their own design into the ring. The difference, they believe, is that their tire not only runs silently, but also possesses military-grade ruggedness. In fact, the company says they've developed the technology specifically for off-road military ATVs.

Hearing the company tout the tire's toughness easily brings to mind the razzle-dazzle of inventions showcased on late night infomercials. Apparently, it can not only cushion heavy weight loads and absorb shock easily, the airless wonder has also been shown to withstand being punctured by a .50 caliber bullet or rail spikes while continuing to log over 1,000 miles. The official word is that the tire can sustain up to 30 percent damage to the web structure and still function seamlessly.

Like the Tweel, the inner core is comprised of plastic spokes molded in a honeycomb pattern, which prevents rocks and other debris from lodging into the webbing. While the principle behind the technology appears to be quite similar to the prototypes put forth by the industry heavyweights, Polaris hasn't gone into much detail as to how they've overcome some of the challenges encountered by previous designs.

For now, the firm's street cred comes from tests conducted in collaboration with the U.S. military. According to the Star Tribune's report:

Haddad envisions a day when 60 percent of Polaris' consumer customers may opt for the new tires. If true, it could mean tens of millions of dollars in new revenue and a seat at the industry table with Michelin, BMW and others working to develop indestructible tires.

But for now, Polaris has captured the interest of the military. The Army began testing eight Polaris tires on military ATVs about four weeks ago. "The Army is always looking at innovative next-generation technologies that improve capabilities for our soldiers," said Dov Schwartz, a U.S. Army spokesman at the Pentagon.

Polaris hopes to have the airless, flat-proof tire ready for consumer launch as early as next year with an estimated price of $500 each. The million dollar question, though, is whether this is something you would buy.

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— By on March 7, 2013, 8:15 PM PST

Tuan Nguyen

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Tuan C. Nguyen is a freelance science journalist based in New York City. He has written for the U.S. News and World Report, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC News, AOL, Yahoo! News and LiveScience. Formerly, he was reporter and producer for the technology section of ABCNews.com. He holds degrees from the University of California Los Angeles and the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure