Michelin's Puncture-Proof Tire Prototype Could Make Flats a Thing of the Past

Steve Fecht for General Motors
Steve Fecht for General Motors

Flat tires have long been the biggest plague facing motorists. In 2017, research conducted by auto experts AAA found that 28 percent of new-model cars didn’t even come with a spare tire in the event of a tire failure, with manufacturers choosing to eliminate them to reduce costs and improve fuel efficiency. In 2016, the AAA estimated that it assisted 450,000 drivers with flats and repairs. Loss of air pressure or simply driving over a piercing object can blow out a tire, causing delays, accidents, and emergency stops into repair facilities.

Tire manufacturer Michelin is looking to change that. In collaboration with General Motors, the company is working on a tire named Uptis (Unique Puncture-Proof Tire System) that doesn’t use air and cannot be rendered flat. The design, which would be the first airless tire system for passenger cars, debuted at this week’s Movin’ On Summit in Montreal.

Though the tire has conventional treads, the middle layer is made of composite rubber and resin-embedded fiberglass spokes. The spokes provide support for the treads and remove the need for air.

The two companies believe the Uptis will last longer than a regular tire because it cannot be worn down by being under or over-inflated. The design is also intended to be environmentally friendly, as it would reduce the number of tires thrown out due to damage. According to Michelin, 200 million tires are discarded every year.

The tires will be tested in a fleet of Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles later this year. If the trial goes well, Michelin expects they could be available on new General Motors vehicles by 2024. It’s not yet clear whether Michelin would sell the tires separately or if vehicles might need some kind of modified chassis in order to accommodate them.

[h/t WBTW]

Does Pushing the Button at a Crosswalk Actually Do Anything?

Pressing this crosswalk button may or may not do something.
Pressing this crosswalk button may or may not do something.
David Tran/iStock via Getty Images

Since crosswalk signals rarely seem to give you the green light (or more accurately, the white, human-shaped light) right after you press the button, you may find yourself wondering if those buttons actually work. The potentially exasperating answer is this: It depends.

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that crosswalk buttons aren’t designed to have an immediate effect; they’re just supposed to tell the system that a person is waiting to cross. As CityLab explained, some systems won’t ever give pedestrians the crossing signal unless someone has pressed the button, while others are programmed to shorten the wait time for walkers when the button has been pressed. No matter what, the system still has to cycle through its other phases to give cars enough time to pass through the intersection, so you’ll probably still have to stand there for a moment.

During busy traffic times or under other extenuating circumstances, however, cities can switch the system to what’s known as “recall mode,” when pedestrian crossings are part of the cycle already and pressing the button quite literally changes nothing. Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell if a particular button is in recall mode, short of calling your city officials and asking an expert to come inspect it.

But if you feel like a button isn’t doing anything, there’s a pretty good chance it’s been permanently deactivated. As congestion has increased and the systems to manage it have become more advanced over the years, cities have moved away from using crosswalk buttons at all. In 2018, for example, CNN reported that only around 100 of New York City’s 1000 buttons were still functioning. Since actually removing the buttons from crosswalks would be a costly endeavor, cities have opted to leave them intact, just waiting to be pummeled by impatient pedestrians who don’t know any better.

What about 'close door' buttons on elevators, you ask? That depends, too.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

China's Coronavirus App Is Alerting Citizens When They're in Danger of Being Infected

Coronavirus fears have spread throughout China and beyond.
Coronavirus fears have spread throughout China and beyond.
Kevin Frayer, Getty Images

Questions continue to linger around the new coronavirus, currently plaguing parts of China and other countries. In an effort to combat the spread of the virus, the Chinese government recently introduced a smartphone app that claims to alert users when someone suspected of having the virus has been nearby.

According to the BBC, the app, dubbed the “close contact detector," works by having phone users register their name and government ID number. Once they activate the service, they’ll be notified if they’ve been in a place where someone diagnosed with coronavirus has been. Patient A, for example, might have reported being on a train, in a classroom, or in an office space that the app user also occupied. The user would get an alert along with a notice to stay home in the event they might have contracted the virus.

Whether a user has been in close contact is determined by their physical proximity to someone suspected of having the virus. Airplane passengers in the three rows surrounding someone suspected of being infected would be considered in close contact. Other passengers may not be considered close.

The scope of the app appears to be limited to information provided by transit authorities and other institutions and does not appear to be an all-inclusive method of determining exposure.

The app is state-sponsored and was developed by the General Office of the State Council, the National Health Commission, and the China Electronics Technology Group Corporation. While critics have said the app presents an invasion of privacy and a way for government to track any user's movements, others have argued that the risk to public health warrants it.

"In this case the public good and the public health has to outweigh the privacy concerns, otherwise we have no shot of doing anything about this," Dr. Irwin Redlener, the director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, told ABC News.

[h/t BBC]

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