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Goodyear wants to replace your tires with mag-lev rubber balls

Though there have been significant changes to tire technology over the years, the general size and shape of a passenger vehicle’s tire has remained the same for decades.

However, Goodyear is ready for the next wave with the introduction of the manufacturer’s Eagle-360 tire at this year’s Geneva Motor Show.

Designed for use on future autonomous vehicles, the Eagle-360 is a spherical tire that would be suspended from a car by magnetic fields. The closest analogy to this is the way maglev trains levitate through the use of magnetic poles. Goodyear claims that passenger comfort would be dramatically changed for the better while road noise would be diminished. That makes sense, considering how the interaction with the road surface is transferred to vehicle occupants because of the physical link between tire and axle.

Related: Get A Grip: Understanding What’s New In Tire Technology

Beyond the benefits to passengers, the ball-shaped design lets the tire move in all directions, obviously increasing a car’s maneuverability to literally all directions. And here’s a big win: if all the tires are spheres, you’d never have to parallel park again. Simply pull up next to a space, and move over horizontally.

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It’s more than just a magnetic ball, though, as Goodyear has incorporated technology that enables the tires to “move as needed.” Though that’s a bit vague, the manufacturer gave the example that when the tire detects hazards like black ice, it will stop moving to reduce slip. Other sensors within the tire collect road condition information and share it with other drivers (which, I suppose would be tire-to-car communication). To extrapolate, the tires could even talk to road authorities to prepare them for road risks, improve response time, or to create slow zones during emergencies.

There are some obvious design issues to be tackled. For example, because of the size of the tire sphere, tucking the tire under a car’s fender would require shortening the front and rear axles considerably. Then there’s the potential expense. High-quality rubber can already cost shoppers a fair penny, and sensor-loaded balls of rubber (with a lot more area to cover) would certainly be more expensive.

Assuming these obstacles could be overcome, it’s a neat idea and I certainly hope Goodyear pursues the concept, if not for the next decade’s crop of cars, then for some future crop of them.