The wheel may be one of humankind’s first inventions, but that doesn’t keep us from continuing to tinker with it. The Energy Return Wheel or ERW is a radical redesign of the common tire that promises to improve any vehicle’s handling and mileage – the suspended “wheel within a wheel” is essentially a spring that absorbs energy from bumps and returns it back to the road. The design is a unique take on tire dynamics – traditional tires and even newer designs simply absorb energy of traveling over bumps.
Like Bridgstone’s Tweel The ERW wheel looks completely different from the tires we’ve been using since Charles Goodyear discovered vulcanized rubber. It is made from two steel hoops – one is nestled within another and suspended by a series of springs. The outer hoop has a rubber casing like a typical tire and an inner membrane. The inner hoop has studs attaching the springs to the wheel, which can be torqued to make the tire more or less springy.
The inventor likens the dynamic of the tire to a garage door, which while very heavy, is balanced with springs to significantly reduce the energy of moving the door up and down. The outer ring of the ERW moves upwards over a bump and springs back while the inner ring stays in relatively in the same place. This means that at cruising speed all those little bumps and vibrations in the road are absorbed and returned to the road by the tire in the form of forward momentum. A typical inflated tire simply absorbs the bumps by flexing the sidewall, creating friction, which reduces efficiency.
It’s not clear how far development on the technology has progressed, or even how it handles on the open road. One potential pitfall is that the open space between the two hoops looks like a mud magnet (although this appears to be addressed in new renderings). Another concern is whether the steel hoop will be able to maintain structural integrity after hitting a major pothole. One thing is certain – ERW tires will definitely turn heads, especially if they are mounted on a Tesla Roadster or a Fisker Karma.
Via Core 77