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Tire innovation has been needed for some time now. Well, Hankook has just developed some wild new tires that fold and expand to deal with any terrain and slapped them on a Jeep Wrangler. The coolest part of these new tires is that they are inspired by the Japanese art of paper folding, origami. Who knew origami could translate to a new tire design so well? 

New tires from Hankook can expanded and retract depending on what size you need and they are currently being testing on a Jeep Wrangler
Experimental Hankook tires | Hankook

Hankook’s new tires are unlike anything we’ve seen before

Well, maybe not anything. The Hankook designers based the new tire design on the traditional origami shape, the water bomb. It is essentially a hollow paper cube that uses a complex series of folds to make a tough but malleable box. 

The Hankook tire is obviously a bit different, but you can see the “folding” inspiration in these space-age new tires. According to New Atlas, Hankook’s R&D has been hard at work with some biorobotics folks from Seoul National University and Harvard engineers to bring us these trippy folding wheels. 

These teams have worked on this project for nearly 10 years before this usable set of wheels. These are clearly no ordinary tires, but what sends them into the stratosphere is the ability to expand from a diameter of 18.1 to 31.5 inches.

Not only do these bad boys expand for tons of ground clearance, but these wheels can support a full-size vehicle’s weight. 

How do these new wheels work? 

New Atlas says they are made from three layers of thick, flexible composite membrane that can still fold up like the origami water bombs. The lines and creases that allow them to work are actually very close to the folds used to make a water bomb with paper. 

diagram of the new Hankook experimental tires
Hankook Experimental tires | Hankook

In between these triple-layered membranes, the Hankook team sandwiched aluminum plates on the non-folding parts. These plates are what make the tires rigid enough to carry real weight. 

Without any inward pressure, the wheels would stay in the 18.1-inch collapsed position. Once the inward pressure is applied and set by the internal locking plates, the wheels can stay at their max height of 31.5 inches. Hankook set up a lab vehicle and a Jeep Wrangler with a set of these for testing. 

What are these wheels used for? 

The applications for these adjustable tires seem nearly endless. However, the main objective for these tires is likely for greater versatility for robot vehicles to access more locations without swapping parts. 

For instance, if a vehicle is off-road or traveling over the wreckage, the wheels could shrink to allow the robot to pass under obstacles or rise to cross more treacherous terrains. Even in more normal scenarios, having smaller tires might help with comfort and gas mileage. However, they seem to be much better for going camping or crossing off-road terrain than city tires. 

Let’s hope these prototype tires can pass their testing period and move into production. They could be one of the most practical car modifications ever to hit the market. To really drive the point home, the researchers say the wheels have a slight give to them that would suggest some suspension applications as well. 

If nothing else, these wheels or something like them seem like a no-brainer for off-world space exploration. These extending new tires could grant access to more places to a rover making the trips more valuable. 


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