Focus on Technology
2:00 pm
Wed October 9, 2013

UC/Hankook tire is turning heads

The South Korean based tire company, Hankook has just unveiled its latest tire at the Frankfort Auto Show, the iFlex. That tire may have ties to Cincinnati.

The 8th largest tire company in the world came to the University of Cincinnati with a bit of a competition. Design an advanced tire that would also respond to environmental concerns. Associate Professor Raphael Zammit says that left it pretty wide open for his design students. “When you are given an assignment to reinvent the wheel literally, everyone was sort of scratching their heads in the first couple of days of the quarter.”

Scott Lenkowsky, now interning in Shanghai, China, was one of those students scratching his head. He said, "Here we are, a bunch of car designers. All we want to do is sketch cars and here they are coming in and saying, hey, we want you to design a tire." Lenkowsky got to thinking how about a tire that could save energy, knowing that a when the car is moving and all of the tire touches the ground you lose about six percent of the energy expended. 

"What if only half of the tire has to touch the ground? What if only a third of the tire has to touch the ground, how far could I push that?”

He did push it and came up with a design. (and Hankook made this video to include all of the UC tires)Lenkowsky's is the eMembrane.

A five-spoke airless tire that looks very light and sporty. Zammit, who designed cars himself, for years in Europe, described it as Tron-like with blue lines running through the tread. It changes shape based on the needs of the car.

  • In low efficiency mode, or high grip mode, when you need traction or any kind of condition when you’re in high speed or braking it would behave like a regular tire, that is all of the tire would be contacting the ground.
  • In high efficiency mode the middle of the tire would be elevated and only the outside of the tire on both sides would be touching the ground.

Lenkowsky’s tire would spend most of the time in high efficiency mode, with the middle of the tire elevated and not touching the road.

The technology is based off memory alloys. An electric current would make the tire change shape. Zammit says this isn’t too futuristic because cars will eventually be running on electric systems.

Hankook told Lenkowsky it wanted to build his tire and the tires of a couple of his classmates. They were shown at the Specialty Equipment Manufacturing Association in Las Vegas. Since then he’s won a couple of prestigious international awards and will go to Singapore this month to accept the latest one.

Lenkowsky said, “I never envisioned that I would do anything with tires and then when I did this project it turned out to be the crown jewel of my portfolio.”