Airless tires on driverless buses give us a glimpse of a hassle-free future

Goodyear now uses autonomous vehicles for real-world testing of its tire tech
by Leandre Grecia | Jul 14, 2021
PHOTO: Goodyear

What happens when a driverless car gets a flat? Will the vehicle slow down and pull over? How do you change the tire afterwards, then? More important, who changes the tire?

Well, Goodyear has quite the straightforward approach to address all this: Make sure the driverless car never gets a flat tire by giving it an airless one. It’s that plain and simple (in the future, theoretically).

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Now, this doesn’t mean Goodyear is ready to roll out its non-pneumatic (airless) tire (NPT) technology. Instead, what the company has now done is develop a tire and wheel assembly to support autonomous vehicle transportation in a city setting, which will now be tested by the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA).

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The autonomous vehicle to be used is an Olli shuttle from Local Motors, a company that has been working together with Goodyear for the past three years to test the NPT in various locations and facilities. The two have actually reached several performance targets with Goodyear’s airless tires, and now the technology enters a new phase as JTA uses it in a real-world scenario.

Since the Olli is an autonomous vehicle, it will be running at low speeds and will have less variable travel paths. This, in turn, makes the urban transportation environment an ideal testing field for the new tire technology. It will help shed light on just how more sustainable and efficient airless tires are.

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“As mobility evolves, we feel that tires can transform the way we move and alternative airless architectures are ideal, particularly in the emerging autonomous transportation environment,” said Goodyear NPT senior program manager Michael Rachita. “This is an important milestone as we look to advance mobility today and as we look to introduce the first completely sustainable and maintenance-free tires by the end of the decade.”

“Autonomous vehicles, like Olli, need to decrease maintenance costs and perform reliably,” said Local Motors CEO Vikrant Aggarwal. “Goodyear’s non-pneumatic tires are positioned to give maintenance teams less to worry about while giving passengers a quiet, consistent ride. Non-pneumatic tires may just be the industry standard in the coming years.”

“The Jacksonville Transportation Authority is proud to integrate this innovative and sustainable technology into our Autonomous Vehicle Test & Learn program as we develop the future of mobility through the Ultimate Urban Circulator,” said JTA CEO Nathaniel P. Ford Sr. “This collaboration is another example of how Jacksonville is leading the public transportation industry in developing AV mobility solutions.”

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PHOTO: Goodyear
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