For more than 50 years, NASA has been channeling its advanced tech into everyday products. The space agency's materials have crept into everything from memory foam mattresses to smartphone and digital camera image sensors. So, it was only a matter of time before its breakthrough tire tech was added to the long list of so-called NASA spinoffs. A startup called Smart is using the airless shape memory alloy (SMA) tire technology — originally built for lunar and Mars rovers —for a bicycle tire called Metl.
Composed of interconnected springs that don't require inflation, Smart claims the superelastic tires are built like titanium to withstand rugged terrains without going flat. Essentially, it's hoping that the prospect of a puncture-free ride can lure in eco-conscious cyclists sick of tossing rubber tubes in the trash.
NASA's Glenn Research Center originally developed the SMA by modifying the typical elastic pneumatic tire material into memory alloys capable of withstanding severe reversible strain and deformation. To combat punctures, NASA engineers set out to create a tire that could flexibly adapt to uneven lunar and martian terrain and spring back into its original shape, while still boasting enhanced control. Naturally, all of those functions speak to off-road cycling.
As a NASA-approved startup, Smart has worked closely with the space agency on its Metl tire, which is set to make it to consumers early next year. It's already nabbed a partner in Spin, the Ford-owned e-scooter sharing company. Smart, which is co-founded by Survivor: Fiji champion Earl Cole and blockchain engineer Brian Yennie, also envisions its tires making their way to cars.