Award-winning airless tires use NASA rover tech to make punctures a thing of the past

The SMART Tire company's METL bicycle tires won two awards at this year's CES in Las Vegas.
Chris Young
NASA's Perseverance rover (left) and the SMART METL tire (right).
NASA's Perseverance rover (left) and the SMART METL tire (right).

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The SMART Tire company, a firm that develops airless tires using NASA rover tech, has won two innovation awards at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the world's largest tech conference.

On its website, SMART says its METL tires won two awards "as Honorees in two different categories, Vehicle Tech & Advanced Mobility and Sustainability, Eco-Design & Smart Energy."

The company is a prime example of a company leveraging space technology to benefit people here on Earth.

NASA rover tech enables punctureless tires

SMART's two main goals are to vastly improve the sustainability of the inherently unsustainable tire industry and to improve safety on the roads.

According to SMART, 75 percent of the tire industry's revenue comes from replacement tires. As a point of reference, the U.S. produces roughly 246 million rubber waste tires per year. The company's two founders, Brian Yennie and Earl Cole, claim their new tires will disrupt the $250 billion tire industry.

The METL tire was designed as part of SMART's collaboration with NASA's Glenn Research Center as part of the agency's Space Act Agreement startup program. The two organizations developed tires using memory metals designed to resist the harsh conditions of space. The result, according to SMART, is a puncture-proof tire that will last for years.

In a September interview with IE, Yennie explained that "without pressurized air inside your tires, punctures are no longer a concern. Even large tears won't slow these tires down: you could stick a kitchen knife right through and keep on riding because it's not going to affect the structural integrity of the tire."

The company's first product is its METL bicycle tire. If all goes according to plan, it will then look to provide tires for e-mobility scooters before finally bringing METL car tires to the market a few years from now.

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The auto industry is definitely where it can provide the greatest impact when it comes to safety — according to Yennie, "20 percent of roadside emergencies involve a tire issue, and the vast majority of those are due to a loss of pressure or improper inflation."

SMART's METL tire is coming to market

In his interview with IE, Yennie said SMART has reduced material costs by over 85 percent over the previous year for its bicycle prototype tire. The company is performing the "final tweaks before going to market," he explained.

On its website, the firm says the METL bicycle tire will be priced at around $100-150 and that it will be available for order in the first quarter of 2023.

Not only is the SMART Tire company's product a potential game-changer for the transport industry, but it's also a shining example of how technology developed for space continuously provides great benefits for people here on Earth.