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Published: Tuesday, 4/1/2008

Retractable-stud tires offer grip on snow at flip of switch

The tires have two air chambers, one for inflation and one to deploy the studs. The tires have two air chambers, one for inflation and one to deploy the studs.

AUGUSTA, Maine - Studded tires offer drivers sure traction on snowy and icy roads across the nation's snowbelt, but highway officials wince at the damage they cause when roads are dry.

Promoters of a new type of winter tire believe they've solved the problem with James Bond-style gadgetry.

Q Tires has devised tires with studs that emerge when the driver flicks a switch inside the car.

When the snow and ice melt, another flip of the switch pulls the studs back under the treads.

The tires have two air chambers, one to inflate the tire and one to deploy the studs.

The company's founder, Michael O'Brien, developed a prototype about five years ago. As of March 20, the company had raised $8.8 million in start-up costs, much of it from individual wealthy investors, said Sean Chariker, the marketing director.

The name is a nod to James Bond's gadget master, Q, and the spiked tires that gave Bond's Aston Martin extra traction in the 2002 film Die Another Day.

The company plans to have its tire, dubbed the Q Celsius, in test markets this summer, to be followed by a broader rollout by the end of the year.

Promoters have been visiting northern states like Maine to make sure their product does not run afoul of state rules and regulations.

"As far as I know, there is no other company working on similar technology," Kevin Rohlwing of the Tire Industry Association said in an e-mail when asked about the new product.

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