Michelin Reinventing the Wheel... and the Tire, Too.
The first automobile to use air-filled tires was a racecar built by André and Édouard Michelin in the early 1890's. More than a century later, the French company founded by the Michelin brothers is so identified with pneumatic tires that its mascot, Bibendum, is a man made of little else.
Now, after decades spent persuading the world to ride on air, the company has begun work on an innovation that could render the pneumatic tire obsolete. Engineers at Michelin's American technology center here envision a future in which vehicles would ride on what they call the Tweel, a combined tire and wheel that could never go flat because it contains no air.
Arriving at a conference room recently to explain the development project, a research engineer, Bart Thompson, used the Segway Human Transporter that he rode to the meeting to illustrate his points. Aboard this high-tech visual aid - one of those self-balancing electric scooters best remembered for the optimistic claim that it would reinvent personal transportation - Mr. Thompson whizzed down the hallway and out to the lobby, pirouetting among the benches and planters to demonstrate the flexibility of the Tweel.
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