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Hankook envisions concept tires that transform on the fly (and drive on water)

At the Essen Motor Show in Germany this week, Tire manufacturer Hankook showed the world its vision of future tire technology, and it goes way beyond different tread patterns.

The vast technological innovations that go into tire development can’t be understated. They save lives, improve performance, and make treacherous conditions manageable. Ultimately, however, they haven’t changed much in concept from the time when people hauling carts around slapped a band of padding to wooden wheels centuries ago. Tires today aren’t much more than slabs of rubber wrapped around a metal hub, and that’s why companies like Hankook participate in engineering exercises to explore what’s possible beyond the simple, traditional concept.

This year, the company revealed three concepts of wheels that are capable of changing their shapes dynamically, altering their performance through rapid changes in terrain and conditions. The “Boostrac” tire is essentially a dune buggy-type wheel made up of hexagonal tread blocks that can expand, changing up the traction to plow through sand or scale a steep mountain path.

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“Alpike” is the tire that can expand its circumference, making driving through snow much easier. When the tire expands, the gaps in the tread and exposed studs grip icy surfaces better, as well. Lastly, the “HyBlade” has a water-wheel-like design and pop-out fins to paddle through water like a riverboat.

Dubbed the Design Innovation project, Hankook works closely with a chosen university every two years to produce these stunning concepts. This year, Hankook teamed up with the University of Design, Engineering and Business in Pforzheim, Germany to create the concept tires, meant to reflect the brand’s research and development initiatives going forward.

Related: Throw away the tire pressure gauge! Goodyear is testing self-inflating tires

Will we see any of these tires on cars soon? No. Will these, however, be something that becomes the norm within our lifetimes? Very possibly. The notion of rubber-and-air tires is constantly being challenged by new innovations, and the concept of a dynamically adaptive tire system is an in invention just waiting to be made. It’s likely that, if a company like Hankook can make this technology applicable, we may be the generation that sees the reinvention of the wheel.