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We’ve come a long way from stone wheels and wooden hoops we used on carts and wagons in the past. Now, you have hundreds of types of tires to choose from when you go to the shop to pick up a new set for your car.
How has technology changed the tire? Let’s look at the history of the automotive tire, as well as how far we’ve come.
Tires weren’t always made of rubber. Early tires — especially for carts and carriages that horses, cows or other livestock pulled along — were made from wood, or wood wrapped in strips of iron to make the wheels last longer.
When carriages started to trade in their horses for onboard internal combustion engines, new tires were necessary to increase traction, make them a little bit safer and absorb bumps in the road before suspension became standard equipment on cars.
Early rubber tires didn’t look anything like the air-filled rubber donuts we know today. They were solid rubber that didn’t need to be filled with compressed air. They worked well enough, but they didn’t absorb vibrations very well, so the ride wasn’t as comfortable as it could be.
The first pneumatic tire was designed in 1888, and the basic design hasn’t changed much — it was made of cords and wire encased in rubber that could be filled with air. The only real downside of this design, which is one problem that we face today, is that it is vulnerable to puncture. Anyone who’s ever driven over a nail or a screw in the road knows how significant — and costly — of a problem this can be.
Tire technology has come a long way from those first stiff rubber tires that adorned the earliest cars, and they’re still changing. Sometime in the next decade, tire engineers are planning on replacing the rubber compounds that go into the tires to improve their rolling resistance. Tires with low rolling resistance help the cars and trucks they’re equipped on to get better gas mileage because it takes less power to get the tires rolling and keep them moving.
These tires are useful for passenger cars, but they can be essential for heavy equipment. It takes a lot of power and fuel to get these big trucks rolling, especially when they’re carrying a heavy load, so tires with low rolling resistance will help the trucks be more fuel efficient and can, over time, reduce operating costs.
Integrating technology into tires is also helping them last longer. Currently, tires in new cars are equipped with air pressure sensors to alert the car’s computer when the tire pressure drops too low, but new smart tires will be able to keep track of everything from the tread depths to the tire pressure to remind you when you need to change your tires.
Maybe you’ll look at your tires in a new light now that you know how far we’ve come. We’ve come a long way from the wood and iron wheels that used to adorn our cars and carriages, and we still have a long way to go. Smart tires are the newest innovation in tire technology, but they definitely won’t be the last — at least until we have flying cars. Until that happens, we’re stuck with tires and vehicles that drive on the road, and it’s up to the engineers to come up with new and exciting innovations that will keep us moving.