It’s the first time airless tires have been tested on automated, mass-transit vehicles.
Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. announced a public-private partnership July 13 with the Jacksonville Transportation Authority and mobility companies Local Motors and Beep to supply airless tires for JTA’s automated vehicles.
Representatives for Goodyear, JTA and its partners announced the six-month pilot program at JTA’s Armsdale Test & Learn Track in North Jacksonville.
According to JTA and Goodyear Senior Program Manager Michael Rachita, this is the first time a nonpneumatic tire and wheel assembly system has been tested on autonomous and mass transit fleet vehicles.
JTA CEO Nathaniel Ford called the partnership with Goodyear a “signal” to the automated vehicle industry Jacksonville is becoming a leader in emerging technology.
“These private sector companies are seeing the JTA as the adequate and the right partner to test out their systems,” Ford said after the news conference.
“We position ourselves as thought leaders, we’ve done the research, we’ve done the examination of these systems,” he said.
JTA demonstrated the airless tires on the Olli 2.0 — a 3D-printed vehicle developed by Beep, Local Motors by LM Industries and Robotic Research LLC that JTA began using in its Test & Learn program in August.
The airless tire pilot is part of JTA’s testing program for the Ultimate Urban Circulator, the authority’s replacement for the Downtown Skyway monorail system.
Beep CEO Joe Moye said the company helped form the public-private partnership for the airless tire pilot.
Moye said that Beep and Local Motors plan to use nonpneumatic tires on production automated mass transit vehicles after it collects data from the pilot program.
He said the companies are looking at the impact of the tires on battery consumption, wear and tear and vehicle safety.
“We’ll kind of be the point of the spear, if you will, in proving that out here in Jacksonville,” Moye said.
Rachita has worked at Goodyear for 22 years and has managed the nonpneumatic tire initiative since 2019.
He said real-world testing will show how automotive systems on a mass transit fleet vehicle impact the airless tires’ endurance and performance.
“(The vehicle) using sensors to stop itself. It’s different in how we use most tires today. Is that going to affect the performance in terms of handling, stopping conditions?” Rachita said.
He said this initial test will allow Goodyear and automakers to add advanced tire sensor systems to detect temperature and tread-wear trends.
Rachita said Goodyear wants to put the nonpneumatic tires into production in the next couple of years.
After its pilot with JTA, Beep and Local Motors, he said Goodyear will test product scalability and price.
Rachita said the tire being tested in Jacksonville is a prototype and Goodyear has not released a production cost.
Ford said the airless tires that won’t go flat could reduce JTA maintenance costs.
“It most importantly ensures the reliability of the system,” Ford said. “You don’t end up with a flat tire or losing air in a tire,” he said.
Ford said that leads to fewer disruptions in reliability that JTA’s “consumers and our citizens expect in terms of their transportation needs.”
“We need to be 100% on time and 100% reliable,” he said. “That’s what we expect going into the future.”
JTA has been testing automated vehicles at Armsdale from three different companies for its U2C program but has not selected the model that will be used.
Ford said JTA will award the bid for the first phase of the U2C — the 3-mile Bay Street Innovation Corridor — within a few weeks.
He says the project will take two to 2½ years to complete.
JTA will receive $247 million for the U2C from the 6-cent Local Option Gas Tax increase approved by City Council on May 26.
The authority will use the money for the second phase of the U2C, which will convert the Skyway monorail track into an elevated roadway for the automated vehicles connected to the Innovation Corridor.
Ford said the JTA will station attendants aboard the automated vehicles when they’re first deployed until officials determine the technology is ready to be fully autonomous.
“We don’t feel, at this juncture, the technology is robust enough as it relates to all the different encounters that will happen in a typical American street,” Ford said. “Everything from pedestrians, children and animals, things of that nature.
“In the future, when the time is right based on closed courses and closed streets and roads, then you can get into a model of driverless.”