This Weird Morphing Skin Could Make Future Vehicles Super Aerodynamic

This strangely alive-looking blob isn't a prop from a sci-fi movie. It's a smorph, a morphing material that could make the cars, trains and airplanes of tomorrow extremely aerodynamic, using the same trick that helps golf balls fly faster and straighter.

At low speeds, a golf ball's dimpled, irregular surface cuts its aerodynamic drag in half. However, at higher speeds, the effect reverses. Until now, that's meant that high speed vehicles can't take advantage of this aerodynamic trick, but a team of MIT researchers has the answer in this morphing material that goes from dimpled to domed on the fly.

The Smart Morphable Surface, or smorph, has a two-layer skin. The inner layer is flexible silicon, wrapped in a stiff outer layer. When a vacuum sucks the air out of the hollow surface, the interaction of the floppy and rigid layers creates dimples in the skin. It's the same skin interaction that makes prunes wrinkle as they dry, just in a more controllable setup.

Hypothetically, a dynamic skin like this could be used to make super-aerodynamic vehicles, with the dimples appearing and disappearing to take maximum benefit of the aerodynamics. It could even be used to wrap buildings, allowing structures to reduce their drag to avoid damage in severe winds.

Although, hand-washing a car with morphing dimpled skin would be pretty bizarre. [MIT News via New Scientist]

GIF via YouTube