Hyundai aims to replace the air in your tires with a new replaceable Air Block system. This system combines what’s great about the pneumatic tire and addresses some of the issues with current airless tire designs. Will the Hyundai Tire Patent get approved and reinvent how we roll down the road?
In this article, we’ll be discussing a Tire for Vehicle by Hyundai, US publication 20210101410. The publication date is April 8th, 2021 and the filing date is Aug. 26th, 2020. This patent has not been granted yet.
This one is very strange, which excites the hell out of me. I’ve never seen anything like it, so I’m hoping you enjoy my findings.
Tire Types: Background
We’re going to start with two types of tires – the pneumatic and the airless tire. Every tire you’ve ever known, on a car, is a pneumatic tire. The pneumatic tire has been used for 100+ years, and has numerous advantages such as being highly adjustable (just watch a NASCAR race), offers high grip, uses refined manufacturing methods, is relatively lightweight, and provides a smooth ride. However, there are obvious drawbacks that we know about all too well. First and foremost is the fact that a car won’t drive very well on a flat – which leads me to the other type of tire.
Airless tires are a fairly new tire design, where a set of rubber vanes provide the support for an outer tread. Personally, I’ve never seen one in the wild, and according to Hyundai, it’s still a concept. The advantage is apparent; no flat tires, ever. Nevertheless, Hyundai also have a few other issues with this design, such as poor ride quality and poor high-speed stability. Does anyone else think airless tires are ugly as hell? Or just me? It might be because I’m so used to pneumatic, but damn they’re hard on the eyes.
Hyundai Tire Patent: Intro
Hyundai are developing a brand new tire design that incorporates both air and rubber vanes, so it’s a hybrid of air and airless tire designs. This new tire contains a number of ‘air blocks’ that can be inserted into the tire from the side, and the air blocks are locked into place under the tread.
Hyundai mentions ride quality a few times in their patent filing, so I’ll inject my own personal theory on the ride quality of these pneumatic and airless tires. A typical pneumatic tire will provide non-linear support, meaning as the tire compresses, the resultant force back to the ground increases exponentially. This creates responsive tire properties. Combined with the fact that the tire itself will provide some level of dampening, a pneumatic tire will almost always provide better ride quality than airless.
As far as an airless tire goes, the vanes should act similarly to a spring, where a spring provides linear support. This means the resultant force applied back to the ground doesn’t change as the tire runs through its “travel”. Added to the fact that the vanes are typically hard rubber and may not rebound back to the correct position quickly enough or provide minimal dampening, it could lead to what is called ‘packing.’ Packing is the result of a spring not returning back to an extended state before hitting another bump, which means the tire would be sitting far in its travel over multiple small bumps. I’m sure there are other issues, but these are the first that come to mind.
There doesn’t seem to be any granular novelty here. It appears as though the whole system is novel, where there’s a tire with air block mounting spaces and multiple air blocks that can be inserted and removed at will. They do use the word ‘circumferential,’ which might be necessary if there’s another similar idea, but the other idea doesn’t go in an actual circle. As stated above, this hasn’t been granted by the USPTO, so the stated novelty could change as prosecution continues.
Hyundai make it pretty clear why they’re doing this. They want to provide the ride quality of a pneumatic tire with the reliability of an airless tire while also maintaining convenience to the car owner.
[if an air block] becomes damaged… [the tire can run]… using a supporting force of the spokes and [can support the] weight of the vehicle or cushioning road running impact…
…[if an air block] is damaged… it can be easily replaced with a new air block prepared in advance in the vehicle interior and so [it] can not only improve reliability associated with tire replacement, but also provide an advantage of not requiring air filling as with the airless tire.
…it is possible to provide excellent ride comfort and high speed running stability as with pneumatic tires.
FIGs. 3 and 4 show this new tire in all its glory. This is just a general representation, as Hyundai has a more specific design coming later. There are a whole bunch of air blocks (item 150 in figures below) that can be inserted and removed from the tire at will. Hyundai shows 8 air blocks, but in reality, they can have more or less.
…the number and shape of the spokes 140 and the air block mounting spaces 140 may be differently determined according to a size and specification of the tire.
Figure 5 shows what I think is probably a closer representation of a final product. The blocks are inserted into the mounting areas and are locked in place with some leaf springs.
FIG 7 shows how a side cross-section of the tire and a block. It appears to be a very simple procedure, where the metal leaf spring is fixed inside some grooves in the tire, on the outside of the air block. The curved leaf spring applies pressure to the block and the tire, keeping the air block in place.
FIGs. 6 and 8 show another example of mounting the air block and holding it in place. The air block is obviously compliant and can be jammed into the mounting area like a sponge. Then, the air block returns back to its intended shape inside the tire, and the little lip (item 170 in the image below) will hold the block in place. Also, very simple.
A very interesting line in the patent application says the air block won’t have any air filling valves. That leads me to ask, how the hell are they going to inflate these? Will we see a new valve from Hyundai in the future? Will these be delivered like bubble wrap? I wonder how they’re actually going to supply and inflate these things.
Therefore, it is more preferable that the air block 150 is manufactured to have a sealed structure having a smooth surface without an air filling valve that may protrude through the outer surface thereof.
I’ll end with a concise explanation of the advantage of this new design. This kind of answers my question, but I still can’t tell how they’re supposed to be filled with air.
…when one of the air blocks [are] damaged… anyone can easily replace it with a new air block prepared in advance in the vehicle interior (for example, a trunk room, etc.), and therefore, the [tire] not only can improve reliability associated with tire replacement, but also provide an advantage of not requiring air filling as with the airless tire.
Hyundai Tire Patent: Conclusions
I am very intrigued by this one. There are some creative folks over in Korea coming up with stuff like this. I’ve always been skeptical of airless tires, but I understand their advantages. It just seems like the idea never took off. Is it due to the price? Ride quality? Unsightliness? Someone, somewhere, knows why they haven’t made it mainstream. However, these new tires seem like they might have a chance.
What about costs for these tires plus multiple air blocks? I just got my wife a brand new set of Pirelli P-Zero’s for $400 shipped. I’m having a hard time believing Hyundai will be able to get these tires anywhere near a competitive price, but we’ll see. I’ve been wrong before.
Lastly, I will say the most obvious issue here: tire balance. Wheels and tires are very heavy, and even the slightest bit of imbalance can cause a horrible ride. There’s a reason why tires are balanced with lasers these days, and weights come in micro-adjustable sizes – to get a perfect balance. Imagine one of these blocks having a very small leak and shifts slightly. Even more so, what if you install one slightly incorrectly? There’s a lot for Hyundai to sus out, but they’re no dummies. They’ve got the money and manpower to figure this out and I hope they do.