Six years ago this month I wrote a column about Gregory E. Kregenu PhD, who promised the "end all and be all in tire technology."
The mysterious Dr. Kregenu had apparently leveraged nanotechnology to create a tire that would...well, here is what I wrote:
“What I saw can’t be described not adequately, at least. Probably because I couldn’t believe what I saw. The tire tread morphed, changed, literally shape-shifted right before my eyes. One minute, there was a standard all-season pattern, then there was an asymmetrical UHP tread. And then, four wide circumferential grooves. Finally, a sipe-heavy winter tread.”
An astounding miracle of mind over matter. And all total BS. Made up entirely from scratch, my April Fools Day prank for 2006.
Imagine, then, how I felt this week when I read about a group of German researchers who have reportedly developed the “world’s first-ever ‘intelligent’ tire, which automatically adapts itself to the prevailing weather conditions even while you are driving.”
According to numerous stories across Europe and India, the tale of Detlef Riemer and his team of scientists at the University of Applied Sciences in Leipzig came through clearly: The tire I dreamt up for a crazy stunt could actually happen.
“Today’s choice of tires are always a compromise between the ability to brake and petrol consumption,” Riemer told one publication. “The car driver has to take into consideration every sort of weather condition and you can’t change tires while you’re driving.”
His “adaptive tire” has sensors that recognize not only the road surface, but also prevailing weather conditions rain, dry or snow and trigger the tire to morph. “The tires’ profiles are automatically raised or widened accordingly, even when the car is in motion,” one European journal wrote.
“That means your car is always equipped with the best possible tire and noise and petrol consumption are automatically optimized, too,” Riemer said.
“The driver no longer has to think about adapting their tires. The tire itself ‘thinks,’ too.”
Reimer’s tire is a long way from being a finished product, but it is being shown at this week’s Hanover Fair, the world’s biggest industrial fair. Hanover, by the way, is also home to Continental AG.
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The article was titled, “Of Course There was a Tire Fire.” Written by Sawsan Kazak, the column in the Kuwait Times online news service describes a fundamental environmental problem faced by Kuwait and its neighbors:
“Kuwait made international news yet again this week when a huge fire broke out in the Rehaiya area. A dump housing about five million tires in Jahra caught fire on Tuesday and sent dark clouds of smoke into the sky. The area, referred to as ‘a graveyard for tires,’ was engulfed in flames and took many hours to extinguish.
“So let me get this straight. Tires have been piling up for years now in one of the hottest places in the world and a fire broke out what a shock! Who could have predicted that amassing millions of tires in one location under the Kuwaiti sun would lead to disaster? I mean, it must have sounded like such a good idea at the time ‘let us take all the tires we can get our hands on, assemble them in one location and see what happens.’
“It’s like a person who collected papers for many decades and was then surprised that a flammable item piled high actually caught fire.
“Here’s my question. Why do we have such a large ‘tire graveyard’? In fact, why do we even have a graveyard for tires to begin with? Do cars mourn the death of the tires that transported them, and need closure so they bury them in a cemetery and visit them on the anniversary of their death? Do tire ‘souls’ really need a final resting place?
“Doing a little research on the matter, I found out that ‘tires are not typically prone to self-ignition’ but in the case of shredded tires that are stored in a depth greater than three meters, spontaneous combustion can occur if the tires are heated to 400˚C for several minutes prior to ignition. Thank you Wikipedia for that bit of information. If only there was a way to make it accessible to those involved in the collection of tires over all these years. If only there was a way we could have foreseen this disaster. So placing tires miles high in the desert could actually lead to trouble; who knew?
“Apparently some members of parliament called the tire fire ‘an environmental catastrophe’ and insisted that they will be asking for ‘a debate on the issue in a special parliamentary session’.
“As usual, parliament is right on top of important matters, and busy debating things that cannot be changed.
“The real issue with Kuwait is that it manages by crises. Decisions are taken only when a tragedy has occurred. Like a good company, the country would benefit from preventative measures that help avoid tragedy.”