AERO Concept full view

[Image above] The Goodyear AERO concept imagines a two-in-one airless tire that serves as both a tire and propeller in future flying cars. While their concept video may look cool, realizing such a tire may be a bit out of reach. Credit: Goodyear AERO

Now that driverless cars are beginning to hit the roads, the media is focusing on what many consider the next step into the future: flying cars.

The last few months have seen a plethora of designs (some more advanced than others) for “flying cars,” but if you take a collective look at these designs, you will notice something is missing—the car.

Most current flying car designs use a vertical takeoff and land (VTOL) approach, meaning they can lift directly off from the ground and do not require a runway. But without the need for a runway, many designs end up looking more like mini personal helicopters than cars—the vehicles lack wheels to drive on the ground. In contrast, designs that include a car capable of driving on the ground generally require a runway for take-off, because they use airplane-like wings rather than helicopter-like blades.

A moviesque future flying car would make use of both designs—able to drive on the ground and use a VTOL method for air/ground transitioning. How might someone design a flying car that accomplishes both objectives?

Based on the concept design revealed last week at the 89th annual Geneva International Motor Show in Switzerland, manufacturing company Goodyear seems to think Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. serves as good inspiration.

The Goodyear AERO tire concept envisions a two-in-one tire that duals as both a tire for driving on the road and as a propeller for airborne travel. The tire would accomplish this feat in part by featuring a non-pneumatic (“airless tire”) design.

Airless tires are not a new concept and come with their share of benefits and downsides in comparison to traditional air-filled tires. And with the advent of additive manufacturing, 3D-printed airless tires could be the next big thing.

However, a tire meant for driving on the ground and a propeller meant to lift a vehicle into the air require different mechanical abilities. Brian Cooley, editor-at-large for Roadshow by CNET, explains some of the difficulties of creating suitable material for such a tire in an article discussing the AERO concept.

Flying cars would let us fly over gridlock—but would we then have gridlock in the air? Credit: Goodyear Tires, YouTube

“The rubber that wraps around those blades [the tire’s spokes] would be solid, rather than an air-filled tire that would deform and disintegrate at aeronautic RPM,” Cooley says. “But without a pneumatic cushion, Goodyear’s material scientist will have to pull some all-nighters to formulate a material compliant enough to cushion the ride on ground while also tough enough to protect the critical wheel/propeller structure.”

Additionally, as Manuel Carrillo III, automotive reviews editor for Roadshow by CNET, explains in another Roadshow article about future flying cars, even if such a tire material could be designed, there are other technical challenges that would complicate creation of a true flying car. “A vehicle’s wheels, axles, and transmission are encumbrances in flight, so the ideal ‘flying car’ will more closely resemble a drone, and have none of those dead-weight items,” he says.

Not all of Goodyear’s AERO concept is quite so farfetched though—some parts of the AERO tire design mimic technology already in cars today. Specifically, Goodyear proposes fiber optic sensors to monitor road conditions, tire wear, and tire structural integrity, and using artificial intelligence to combine information from the tire’s sensors with data from vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication to successfully identify and resolve tire-related issues before they happen.

Though AERO may fade away into the annals of Goodyear designs (remember that tire filled with living moss?), Goodyear chief technology officer Chris Helsel hopes the design will at least start some discussion.

“The concept tire will spark first of all the debate of how mobility will be in the future,” Helsel says in a Goodyear Tires video, “but also trigger the discussion about what technologies will need to be developed.”

While I doubt the ability of a car to levitate with the use of only half of its propellers (really, Goodyear?), I still enjoyed watching the AERO concept video. Take a look for yourself below!

Credit: Goodyear Tires, YouTube