Even tires considered basic are the results of massive engineering and financial investments – a single tire can include up to 20 different kinds of rubber compounds and their constructions and build techniques are so mysterious that it's easier to get a tour of the White House than a tire factory. A new tire being worked on by a team of German engineers at the University of Leipzig, however, would be a Buck Rodgers-like leap in tire tech by incorporating changeable elements to alter the shape of the tire as you drive.

The recipe for such a hoop includes "flexible actuators, piezo-ceramic actuators, shape memory alloys and 'smart materials'" that gather and process information on the road surface and weather conditions. That info would then be used to reshape the tread to optimize performance on the fly, which can mean altering groove patters and expanding and raising tread blocks. As the professor in charge said, "The driver no longer has to think about adapting their tires. The tire itself 'thinks' too."

For millions of drivers, a world in which the single word "tire" automatically means "all-terrain, all-season, high-performance tire" would be a good one. The engineers have patented their work and are showing a prototype at the Hanover Fair in Germany, yet it should come as no surprise that such a world is a long, long way off.

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