It’s amazing how little attention is paid to wheels, considering they are the only part of the car that touches the road.
Michelin is making a big deal of them. Edouard Michelin is probably the coolest CEO I have met. He has taken it upon himself to create the Challenge Bibendum – the largest most well attended environmentally concerned gathering of autophiles there is.
At the 2005 Detroit Auto show Michelin announced the tweel – the tire/wheel. The tweel is an airless tire that will be marketed to wheelchair bound folks. One can’t help but think of Christopher Reeve when you think of wheelchairs. He spoke for millions and I can only imagine that he would have been one of the first to receive tweel wheels.
"Major revolutions in mobility may come along only once in a hundred years," said Terry Gettys, president of Michelin Americas Research and Development Center in Greenville, S.C. "But a new century has dawned and Tweel has proven it’s potential to transform mobility. Tweel enables us to reach levels of performance that quite simply arent possible with todays conventional pneumatic technology."
Michelins Tweel is in production and available as an enhancement for future iBOT mobility systems. Invented by Dean Kamen, the iBOT mobility device has the ability to climb stairs and navigate uneven terrain, offering mobility freedom impossible with traditional wheelchairs.
When in a wheelchair there is an amount of dignity that is lost, not only from being in a wheelchair, but from people looking down on you. The tweels allow wheelchair bound folks to be at eye-level with standing humans, to feel like one of them, human.
"The Tweel automotive application, as demonstrated on the Audi, is definitely a concept, a stretch application with strong future potential," said Gettys. "Our concentration is to enter the market with lower-speed, lower-weight Tweel applications. What we learn from our early successes will be applied to Tweel fitments for passenger cars and beyond."
Edouard Michelin is doing what Bill Ford wishes he could do; he is making the environment and graciuosness of spirit a profitable enterprise. I would love to see the two of them talk.