Sensing a possible shift from conventional automobiles to flying cars, one tiremaker has come up with a tire that doubles as a propeller. Goodyear's Aero tire is designed to support the weight of a vehicle while driving and then tilt horizontally so its spinning bladed spokes can function as a tiltrotor to provide lift and forward propulsion for flying.
Designed at a Goodyear facility in Luxembourg and introduced by the company Tuesday at the Geneva Motor Show in Switzerland, the tire doesn't actually exist yet. The company calls it a "concept tire" designed to "trigger a debate on the tires and transport technologies for a new mobility ecosystem."
Like conventional tires, the Aero is circular and rotates around a hub. But the tire is nonpneumatic — airless — and the integrated wheel it's wrapped around is made not of rigid metal like conventional wheels but of fanlike flexible spokes.
"The individual blades absorb shocks while driving on the road but also act as robust rotors to create vertical lift when the tire is tilted," Daniel Hinque, a Luxumbourg-based Goodyear engineer involved in the tire's development, said in a promotional video.
And if you believe the slick animation in the video, the shift from driving to flying would be made without stopping. It shows futuristic Aero-equipped vehicles speeding down a highway as one wheel and then the others tilt to the horizontal position and the vehicle takes to the air.
It's a compelling vision, but not everyone is convinced that the two-in-one tire will take off.
Pat Anderson, director of the Eagle Flight Research Center at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, said that melding two components into one might offer the advantage of reducing the number of parts in a flying vehicle. But, he added, "combining things typically results in a lot of compromises."
"You've seen cars that are supposed to turn into boats, but it's not a good boat or a good car," he said.
The downwash from the fast-spinning tire in flight mode might damage things below and possibly cause "horrific" noise levels, Anderson added. And he questioned why travelers would want to drive at all when they could fly. "I would just fly to where I wanted to park," he said.
Ella Atkins, a professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan, offered a more sanguine view. In an email to NBC News MACH, she called the tire "innovative," adding, "It would be great to use the same transmission to turn the thrust-generating blades in flight mode that turns the rolling wheels in car mode."
But she, too, raised questions about the Aero, saying its airless design reminded her of the solid rubber tires used in the early days of automobiles. "I'm sure new technology can improve handling and stability, but there will be limits," she said in the email. "How safe and efficient can a car be with 'Model T tires' in car mode even with 21st Century sensors and electronics?"
So if Goodyear was aiming to trigger a debate, it seems to be off to a good start.