Smart Morphing Surface, or Smorph. Image via MIT/Pedro ReisEnlarge Photo
Golf balls and cars don’t often have more in common than whether there’s room for a couple of bags in the trunk. But that may soon change.
A new technology from a research lab at MIT—called Smorphs—could put a set of dynamic dimples on the exterior of a car to improve its surface aerodynamics, making it slipperier, and therefore faster.
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Spearheaded by Pedro Reis, a mechanical engineer and researcher at MIT, the Smorphs (short for “smart, morphable surface”) are the demonstration of the technology, reports Wired, changing from smooth to dimpled like a golf-ball at will.
The Mythbusters proved the validity of the dimpled car form in a much more low-tech way several years ago—by coating a car with clay and scooping out dimples. The result? The dimpled car got better gas mileage—11 percent better, in fact.
The technology behind the Smorph could replicate that result, but much more intelligently. The Smorph system itself is simple: a hollow core is surrounded by a thick, deformable layer, and a smooth outer skin. When vacuum is applied, the outer layers suck in to form the dimples.
By varying the form of the hollow core and the amount of vacuum applied, the shape and depth of the dimples can be controlled. Choosing the optimal dimple type and depth would be key to maximizing the benefit to aerodynamics—and could, in theory, be varied along the surface of a car.
As yet, however, the technology is only in its very earliest stages.