Hankook has revealed a new airless tire design called i-Flex which makes its debut this week in concept form at the 2013 Frankfurt Auto Show. The i-Flex tire constitutes both the tire and wheel and is similar to previous concepts from Bridgestone as well as America’s own Polaris.
Apart from being puncture proof, the i-Flex tire has many other benefits. It is considerably lighter than conventional tire and wheel combinations and it can also provide a level of shock absorbency through the unique mesh structure. According to Hankook, these two attributes alone contribute to reduced fuel consumption and improved NVH levels.
However, the benefits don’t end there. The lighter weight means less unsprung mass, aiding handling, and 95 percent of the tire's materials are recyclable. The i-Flex is made from polyurethane synthetics, with the tire manufactured in conjunction with its rim as a single unit. The concept version on display in Frankfurt will measure just 155/590 R14 and be displayed on a Volkswagen up! subcompact.
Hankook hasn’t mentioned production plans but it’s only a matter of time until airless tires start to replace their pneumatic cousins.
Note, Hankook is working on even more advanced tire technology. Working with researchers from the University of Cincinnati, Hankook has developed an eMembrane tire concept that is capable of transforming its profile through internal structure changes in accordance with different driving conditions, such as in a busy city or on a race track.
For instance, when driving at high-speeds, the tire’s tread center extends to generate maximum ground friction through wider ground contact area, aiding grip. Conversely, when driving at low-speeds, the tread is designed to produce minimal road contact area and ground friction, whereby the tire's fuel efficiency is enhanced by reducing rolling resistance. The eMembrane tire is previewed in the video below.