Sometimes the future really sucks.
Back in 2004, the movie "I, Robot" came out and rationalized our fear of autonomous technology. We commended Audi for its cool looking RSQ concept that was driven by Will Smith in the movie, but when we looked at rubber spheres that inhabited the wheel wells, we couldn't help but let out a loud "What are those!?" The RSQ looked futuristic enough without having rubber balls as tires, but as impractical as they seemed, Goodyear thinks that this type of technology is the way of the future.
To test the idea, Goodyear has rolled out the Eagle-360 concept tire. As you can imagine, the tire is basically a rubber ball with tread. The tread is printed using a 3D printer and the car itself suspends over the tires using magnetic levitation instead of suspension. Goodyear thinks that this kind of tire would be perfect for autonomous vehicles because it would offer a greater degree of maneuverability, but allowing the car to park easily isn't the only feature of the experimental tire. It also includes sensors to read road conditions and tell the self-driving software if it needs to adjust for rain or other road hazards. Added safety comes from some cool new technology.
The tread uses biomimicry (the imitation of the models, systems, and elements of nature for the purpose of solving complex human problems) by copying brain coral to act like a natural sponge. This makes it so that the tire stiffens to increase control in dry weather and softens when the road is wet to attain better grip. It isn't clear as to what the performance benefits of such a tire would be because one can expect a sphere to have a smaller contact patch than a cylindrical object, but then again lap times may be able to go down with added maneuverability. Whatever the benefit, we're not sure it justifies the aesthetic loss of good looking rims wrapped in fresh rubber. After all, can you imagine a Ferrari sitting on four mouse track balls?
See the technology at work here.