Michelin has long been at work at removing the hassle of a flat tire. And even though the company’s Tweel hasn’t been adapted yet for mainstream automotive use (it’s currently only available for applications like construction and landscaping), the airless tire is quite the achievement and an undeniable advancement in transportation.
However, this expanding wheel, though just a prototype, is something else entirely. Rather than create a new tire, a student named Ackeem Ngwenya has quite literally reinvented the wheel.
According to Dezeen, Ngwenya started the project in order to “help farmers in rural Africa carry heavier loads to market and replace the traditional method of, ‘head carrying’.” These farmers carry these loads atop their heads because most of them live so remotely that traversable roads are in short supply.
So, instead of asking for unlikely expensive infrastructure investments, Ngwenya set out to create a wheel that could adapt to several types of tires and a wide array of terrains, allowing these farmers’ vehicles passage to town.
Dozen explains that the expanding wheel works through a crank powered by a, “mechanism similar to a scissor jack—the device used to raise cars for minor repair work.” The site continues:
“In their standard form, the wheels resemble compressed basketballs. Pushing the sides in with the crank achieves a higher ground clearance for the vehicle they are attached to, while pulling them out creates a larger contact area with the ground.”
The Tweel certainly seems like a more realistic approach to airless tires, but Ngwenya’s idea is ambitious in a way that might cause a major rethinking within vehicle and transportation design. It will be interesting to see where the innovation takes us.