Home » Hyundai Invents Deployable Tire Chains That Should Make ‘Speed Racer’ Dreams Come True

Hyundai Invents Deployable Tire Chains That Should Make ‘Speed Racer’ Dreams Come True

Hyundai Chains
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Remember the Mach Five from Speed Racer? Hyundai certainly does, including how the fictional car’s steering wheel had buttons for all sorts of fantastic driving functions. While an invincibility shield hasn’t been invented yet and deployable cutting blades probably won’t pass pedestrian safety standards, Hyundai has been working on a feasible version of Speed Racer’s belt tires for extra traction on slippery surfaces without the need for tire chains or studs.

For younger readers who haven’t seen the original Speed Racer anime or read the manga, here’s a little bit of context. Decades before Initial D, Speed Racer was the first popular anime about racing. Even more than 55 years later, it still holds up well, and maintained enough cultural relevance to get a Hollywood adaptation in 2008. In the live-action film directed by the Wachowskis, the Mach Five’s belt tires get replaced with deployable crampons, but the technology Hyundai has unveiled is more faithful to the original.

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At the heart of what Hyundai calls “snow chain-integrated tire technology” lies shape memory alloy, metal that changes silhouette when electric current is applied. Chevrolet used it for venting excess air pressure from the C7 Corvette’s cabin when the hatch is being closed, and Hyundai believes it’s durable enough for tires. Hey, why not? With the power off, these metallic bands sit well below the surface of the tread, firmly out of the way of excess wear.

However, when extra grip over icy terrain is desired, activating the electronic tire chains sends electric current through each alloy wheel and into each metallic traction band. The shape memory alloy then changes profile to protrude from the tread of the tire and bite into slippery surfaces much like snow chains. The result? Better grip on ice and packed snow without studs or chains protruding on dry pavement, and a very audible reminder of when a tire’s tread is worn out.

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This contrasts with automatic snow chains seen on heavy trucks, as those consist of chains attached to a movable, rotating head, which is then attached to a live axle. When deployed, the chains are sandwiched between the drive axle tires and the ground, resulting in increased traction. While great in concept, attempting to package a system like this on any car with independent rear suspension would likely result in four-letter words, partly due to the sheer number of moving suspension parts the massive automatic snow chain components could interfere with. Hyundai’s deployable strips? Those should theoretically work with spaghetti-like multilink independent suspension, no problem.

Mind you, the way Hyundai demonstrates the technology comes with a few downsides, namely the pesky requirement for special wheels to fit these shape memory alloy bands. We’ve seen this play out before multiple times, with fully-metric Michelin TRX and Michelin PAX tires that proved to be expensive pains in the asses of anyone who didn’t own a Bugatti Veyron. Actually, the all-metric, plastic-ringed run-flat PAX tires are probably also a pain for Veyron owners judging by each tire’s five-figure price tag.

Hyundai Belt Tires 1

Then there’s the fact that tires move and flex as you drive on them. What will a nasty pothole strike do to a traction band? What about sidewall roll, a real threat when you have a teenager or a 57-year-old teenager in the house? I’m sure Hyundai’s engineering team is full of smart people, but wouldn’t you just love to know what the weak points of this design are? What kind of added mass can one expect? What sorts of dry-road traction compromises will one have to make over a tire that doesn’t have this technology? We have lots of questions, just as we had questions about Hyundai’s recent “Uni-Wheel” meant to change electric vehicle drivelines entirely.

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Intriguingly, this tire isn’t just a flex of technical prowess. Hyundai claims that it’s patent-pending in Korea and the U.S., and mass-production is being considered. I’d be interested in seeing how these do against studless winter tires, seeing as the latest crop of those is downright excellent. Perhaps it doesn’t matter if performance margins don’t work out to be vast, since anything that makes our childhood cartoons come to life is pretty damn cool.

(Photo credits: Hyundai)

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OnceInAMillenia
OnceInAMillenia
2 months ago

Does it count as prior art for their patent if the 80s RC car “The Animal” did this already?
https://youtu.be/Afofc_Jt86s?si=3N7GYb8UJRoSQQDt

Taylor Marshall-Green
Taylor Marshall-Green
2 months ago

Krull Tires

Scott Wangler
Scott Wangler
2 months ago

Pretty cool. I expect the cost to be prohibitive and the reliability to be iffy.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
2 months ago

I dunno about this.

There’s something to be said about needing to pull off on the side of the road, putting on gloves and kneeling in cold slush, to attach cold chains to tires that lends a driver a sense of responsibility and reverence for the road ahead.
I’m not a fan of this type of push button convenience in scenarios that should require stopping to think about and understand the reality of the dangers of the path ahead.
Some things shouldn’t be easy for everyone. Driving through a snow covered mountain pass is one of those things.
I need these types of idiots on high mountain roads like I need a surgeon that honed their craft from watching YouTube videos.

Last edited 2 months ago by Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Ben Trueblood
Ben Trueblood
2 months ago

I agree…although the lack of a pushbutton tire chain alternative is not stopping the average soccer mom from blithely driving up a steep, snowy mountain pass road with nothing more than AWD and worn street tires. As evidenced by how often I90 over Snoqualmie Pass closes due to spinouts in the winter.

Old Hippie
Old Hippie
2 months ago

So much cool, and so much wrong here.

These are for folks who don’t drive snow and ice on a regular basis, right? ‘Cause if you do, you just put on the tires meant for those conditions every fall and change ’em out for the summer tires in the spring.

So you’re driving your $5K+ each fancy-ass electronic shape-changing tires all winter on mostly dry roads. How long do you expect those to last?

Then the lateral-force thing. Yeah, that’s a real problem.

PS: Heavy trucks do much more road damage than chains or studded tires could ever hope to do.

Last edited 2 months ago by Old Hippie
Knowonelse
Knowonelse
2 months ago

Speaking of odd tire chains, anyone use SnoTreads? Plastic with metal studs and nylon straps. I used them for years on my VW squareback. Properly fitted, they worked great and one could get up to a higher speed than with metal chains. Cable chains didn’t exist back then. They became illegal to sell, but if you had them already they were legal.

Scoutdude
Scoutdude
2 months ago
Reply to  Knowonelse

I remember seeing those decades ago, never heard that they made them stop selling them. Do you know why they were deemed illegal? They supposedly met the legal requirements in at least my state.

Hoonicus
Hoonicus
2 months ago

Whole lotta spaghetti flinging going on over there. Brings to mind a two word retort. Get Bent.

Ben Trueblood
Ben Trueblood
2 months ago
Reply to  Hoonicus

Hey, hey.

Anoos
Anoos
2 months ago

This will go great with their overly complex planetary gear wheel thing.

Between the two, your Hyundai would rarely make it out of the shop onto the open road. Think of the gas you’ll save!

HumboldtEF
HumboldtEF
2 months ago
Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
2 months ago

Alternate headline: Hyundai invents $5,000 tire change

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
2 months ago

I think I’d prefer a ’69 Camaro with RPO Z75, automatic liquid tire chain sprayers!

Abdominal Snoman
Abdominal Snoman
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Smith
Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
2 months ago

I’m going to patent a system of lasers mounted forward of each tire. When activated, these will instantly vaporize ice, snow and rain while flash drying the road surface so the tire always has a clear dry surface to roll on. Who wants to invest?

Jack Beckman
Jack Beckman
2 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

“Lay-zoers” will do the trick – for one MILLION DOLLARS!

Brian Ash
Brian Ash
2 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

Dr. Evil claims he has trademarked and patented mounting “lasers” on everything; Sharks, Moon, Sea Bass, etc. Also note they are Frickin “Lasers”.

Abdominal Snoman
Abdominal Snoman
2 months ago

I see two issues with this that are caused by there only being 6 “skis” that go across the tread width horizontally. You’ll get great acceleration and breaking, but virtually no improved grip laterally. I’m not sure how I’d like driving on tires that have 10X grip in the fore / aft direction, but not laterally.

Next issue is if you’re braking and have the wheel turned left, the “chains” may counterproductively push the front of the car to the right as you essentially have a set of skis trying to take a right turn in contact with the snow with far more grip than the rubber trying to go left.

Jack Beckman
Jack Beckman
2 months ago

Great points. The special wheels and tires are a huge turn off too. And what about damage to the road surface? It won’t necessarily be all snow.

John McMillin
John McMillin
2 months ago

Lateral stability is a big problem here. This might be useful to get going in deep snow and in straight-line braking, but not in cornering. At best, the metal bands would be useless against sideways cornering forces. At worst, when the tire begins to skid, they’d act like ice skates. Looks like this would just get you to the accident scene faster.

Anoos
Anoos
2 months ago

The ridges on this tire are in the same direction as the sipes cut into tread blocks on standard snow tires. They’re really only a benefit in braking or accelerating.

MrLM002
MrLM002
2 months ago

I’d rather have snow tires, onspot automatic tire chains, and at least a locker, preferably 2.

Arch Duke Maxyenko
Arch Duke Maxyenko
2 months ago

Hyundai/Kia desperate to reinvent the wheel these past few weeks

Electronika
Electronika
2 months ago

very cool technology. The “Automatic Chains” on trucks and busses are TERRIBLE for road surfaces. In fact tire chains in general destroy roads.

about 25 years ago I moved from my birthplace in southern California to Colorado. Growing up my dad kept a box of old school chains in the trunk of his car and I have horrible memories of sky trips to Mammoth and Big Bear crouching in the freezing cold trying to hook them up while my dad yelled at the world in frustration.

When I moved to Colorado, I arrived in January, in a snowstorm and I was not looking forward to what I perceived was going to be a regular winter activity. 25 years later I have never had to put them on. Out here, if you don’t have a 4 wheel drive car, most people use studded snow tires. They work great but they destroy the roads. Colorado and the Denver metro have terrible roads and one of the reasons are studs. However, without anything better they remain the easiest, most cost effective, safest and best solution for places with regular ice and snow in the winter.

In most climates in the USA chains are usually only needed high up in the mountain passes or if there is a situation where the snow just fell. That being said, this seems like a ton of technology and complexity for something that few people will ever use.

Personally, I would rather them find a way to have a high performance tire that doesn’t turn into a slick as glass rock when the temperature goes below 40 degrees. I would love to drive my Supra more but I love my sticky summer tires but when it gets cold here its a death trap.

But really, 25 years in Colorado a front wheel drive car or an AWD suv with all weather or winter tires has always worked just fine for me.

How about this, how about all the car companies invest in a program to inform people that AWD doesn’t mean you can drive at any speed in adverse weather conditions. People out here who just moved from California, Texas and Arizona (I will count myself 20 years ago) that having all wheels powered only increases traction it doesn’t help you stop when you are driving on ICE. we see more accidents because of people driving too fast on snow and ice then because people with 2wd cars not having enough traction.

Dar Khorse
Dar Khorse
2 months ago
Reply to  Electronika

Fellow Coloradoan here, and you’re spot-on. As a co-worker of mine used to say: “Having 4-wheel go doesn’t make you special. Everybody has 4-wheel stop.”

Andrew Wyman
Andrew Wyman
2 months ago

I feel like this may show up in 10 years, but won’t catch on.

10001010
10001010
2 months ago

I’d rather have KITT’s Traction Spikes
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PXUFBnG00E

Crank Shaft
Crank Shaft
2 months ago

Serious compliments on the Mach 5 mention. Just brilliant!

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