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The Orange Goo That Could Save Your Laptop 285

Barence writes "A British company has patented what can only be described as an orange goo that could save your laptop or iPod after a nasty fall. The amazing material is soft and malleable like putty, but the substance becomes solid instantly after impact. You can punch your fist into a ball of the material sitting on a desk and not feel a thing, according to the staff at PC Pro who have been testing the material, called 3do. It's being used by the military, the US downhill ski team, and motorcycle clothing manufacturers to provide impact protection in the event of a crash. However, it's also appearing in protective cases for laptops and MP3 players."
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The Orange Goo That Could Save Your Laptop

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  • I don't get it.. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 31, 2009 @04:56AM (#29258379)

    Isn't the point of protection to absorb the impact? That's why bubble-wrap is squishy. If this instantly turns solid, wouldn't that mean that the g-forces, the energy of the impact is not absorbed by it and is thus transferred to the item inside?

    • Re:I don't get it.. (Score:5, Informative)

      by h4rm0ny (722443) on Monday August 31, 2009 @05:29AM (#29258523) Journal

      Presumably the energy is absorbed by it turning solid. Similar in principle (in vague terms) to how the bonnet of a car (hood to USA people) is designed to crumple so that it absorbs the energy of a crash. Afterwards the bonnet is more condensed - harder - but the energy went into making it so, rather than getting transferred on to the rest of the car and the passengers.

      Well the front of normal cars is designed to do that. SUVs are designed to kill people.
      • "SUVs are designed to kill people."

        SUVs arent designed, that would imply some kind of thinking behind them.

        • by Shin-LaC (1333529) on Monday August 31, 2009 @06:34AM (#29258697)
          Of course. They evolved to be that way, to maximize their fitness in an environment full of size queens.
          • Size queens... (Score:5, Insightful)

            by geekmux (1040042) on Monday August 31, 2009 @07:55AM (#29258983)

            Of course. They evolved to be that way, to maximize their fitness in an environment full of size queens.

            Yes, because never in our history (cough, Great Pyramids, cough) have we humans ever been accused of having inadequacy issues.

            Somehow I think this "evolution" started well before someone thought to take a truck and bolt a "trunk" on it.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by CarpetShark (865376)

              Yes, because never in our history (cough, Great Pyramids, cough) have we humans ever been accused of having inadequacy issues.

              Actually, Lin Yutang accused us of it quite eloquently ;)

              A man seeing a hundred-story building often gets conceited, and the best way to cure that insufferable conceit is to transport that skyscraper in one's imagination to a little contemptible hill and learn a truer sense of what may and what may not be called

        • No they have been designed for product placement. I imagine a Hummer employee in a suit wandering Hollywood lots: 'Shooting an action movie? History? Was time travel mentioned in the script? Sorry.' (leaves card, goes to next lot) 'Is this a post nuclear Apocalyptic wasteland type movie? Wha--Resident Evil 14! JACKPOT!

          And so on...

      • by kpainter (901021) on Monday August 31, 2009 @08:22AM (#29259099)

        Similar in principle (in vague terms) to how the bonnet of a car (hood to USA people) is designed to crumple so that it absorbs the energy of a crash.

        I always assumed that the reason for the crumple was to maximize the cost of repair ultimately necessitating the purchase of a new vehicle.

      • Re:I don't get it.. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by PPH (736903) on Monday August 31, 2009 @08:49AM (#29259267)

        Well the front of normal cars is designed to do that. SUVs are designed to kill people.

        But its the people in the SUV that will be killed . So be happy.

        Most collisions are single vehicle, involving a car with a fixed object. If we assume that most fixed objects are much more rigid than the vehicle, if you have an engineered crush zone, you'll stand a better chance of survival than if you have a rigid frame.

        My SUV is designed so that it's frame doesn't distort when pulling with a winch. A side effect of that is that it has a rigid frame. Too bad for me, but its a decision I made when selecting it. You may feel free to laugh at me when I hit a tree. I laugh as I drive by every poor fool stuck in a snow bank whose car I would destroy trying to winch it out.

        • by h4rm0ny (722443)

          But its the people in the SUV that will be killed . So be happy

          Not if it hits a cyclist or a pedestrian. I know those are rarer in the USA, but here in Europe, people are driving around in SUVS and when they hit someone on a bike, or an adult or a child - all of which are also more likely to happen in a SUV due to the height - then the chances of that person being killed are much higher than with a normal car.

        • Re:I don't get it.. (Score:4, Informative)

          by Graff (532189) on Monday August 31, 2009 @05:18PM (#29266651)

          My SUV is designed so that it's frame doesn't distort when pulling with a winch. A side effect of that is that it has a rigid frame. Too bad for me, but its a decision I made when selecting it.

          Rigid under tension is not the same as rigid under compression. Most SUV's are designed with hardened points for towing (tension) but they still have crush zones for accidents (compression). In fact, because of the size, the crush zones in an SUV are often larger and more effective than those in a smaller car.

          Overall, you are safer in an accident when you are in an SUV than when you are in a smaller car. Of course, this does vary according to the type of accident and overall safety design of the vehicle. You also have to factor in that SUV's are more susceptible to some kinds of accidents than other cars.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by PopeRatzo (965947) *

        Presumably the energy is absorbed by it turning solid.

        It sounds a little bit like what you get when you mix cornstarch and water. If you press it slowly, your finger sinks right in as if it's liquid, if you hit it hard, it's solid.

      • by Gilmoure (18428)

        Is why they have running chainsaws on the front.

    • Re:I don't get it.. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ATMD (986401) on Monday August 31, 2009 @05:31AM (#29258533) Journal

      I guess there's a limit to the amount of shock it can absorb. I would imagine its properties have been tweaked so that it stops any impact within its own thickness. Obviously if the impacting object is travelling faster, that results in more rapid deceleration and thus more forces transferred to the delicate internally-bits of your laptop. For dropping off a table though, it probably provides the smallest possible deceleration force against the floor, compared to protection materials currently on the market.

      My suspicion would be that rather than rather than causing the linear deceleration of a simple spring constant, (like most other foams, rubbers, etc.), it provides an exponential deceleration: the stopping force in a shear-thickening fluid is proportional to the speed rather than the displacement. This means that the material starts acting from the very moment of impact, as that is the point with the highest speed. A spring, (or foam, or rubber, or anything else that acts like a spring), would do essentially nothing until the impact has squeezed it enough to get a decent counter-force out of it. But by that time it might be too late, and the spring might have already bottomed out. I'd be interested to see some numbers for this gel, to back up the stuff I've just written!
      /Disclaimer: Mechanical engineering undergraduate. Don't have my qualification yet; take above post with a pinch of salt.

      • Re:I don't get it.. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by ATMD (986401) on Monday August 31, 2009 @05:44AM (#29258557) Journal

        Heh, glad I put that disclaimer there. Stopping force is proportional to velocity, (technically shear rate), in a Newtonian fluid such as water or oil: in a shear-thickening fluid viscosity is proportional to velocity. Viscosity is the proportionality constant linking speed and stopping force, so I guess that makes stopping force proportional to the square of the speed.

        For more info, try [wikipedia.org] these [wikipedia.org].

        • by Fluffeh (1273756)
          Yeah, I got to say that I am quite curious about this. I recall seeing something a while back on the tele about it being used to make new shock/impact protection, but both THAT show and this article/website seem very thin on facts and "how it works".

          Don't even bother trying to watch the youtube movie they have on their website. It provides less information than picking your nose in the dark.
          • by ATMD (986401)

            Nice analogy =P

            I'm tempted to improve that Wiki article on power-law fluids when I have a moment, so that it's more readily understood by those who haven't already learned the majority of what it's trying to explain...

          • by Gilmoure (18428)

            Can play around with a substitute; corn starch and water. Make a thick slurry and you can push your finger through it slowly but if you hit it faster, it hardens up at point of impact. Kinda' wild.

          • by Fizzl (209397)

            very thin on facts and "how it works".

            Oh come now. The promotional video is FUCKING EXTREME! With snowboards! And Punk! What more could you possibly want?!

        • by selven (1556643)
          Drag in air, water or any other normal substance is always proportional to the square of the velocity. This is because if you double the speed of an object travelling through a fluid, the particles will hit the object twice as fast, causing twice as much change in velocity, and there will be twice as many particles hitting it per second. Combine those two effects and you get the proportionality to v^2.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Dekker3D (989692)

          wait... "stopping force proportional to the square of the speed"
          so if something impacts it twice as fast, it'll push back four times as much?

          doesn't that mean it'd be perfect in some kind of new body armour? if it's not too heavy to be useful, that is. or just on the parts that need the most protection..

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Muckluck (759718)
          Actually, I must take your disclaimer with a pinch of salt. You are an undergraduate, which implies that you are still studying. Since you are studying, this implies that you are using your brain trying to figure things out. This means that you have NOT yet reached the point where you "know it all" because you have been "doing this for years and this is how everything works". Work as hard as you can not to fall into this type of "Engineer Brain" trap. The older I get, the harder it is to fight... Than
      • Re:I don't get it.. (Score:5, Informative)

        by silentcoder (1241496) on Monday August 31, 2009 @07:31AM (#29258905) Homepage

        Well... we all know what's in this stuff don't we ? It's custard (possibly with some orange food colorant).

        The behavior described here is identical to that exhibited by custard and other liquids with low viscosity but high surface tension. The effect is that low velocity impacts are passed through easily but high velocity impact causes the surface tension to rapidly increase and prevents entry. To put it bluntly, you can run over a swimming pool full of custard, but you can't walk over one (brainiac did an episode on it, though they could have done a better job of explaining the theory about why it works that way - wikipedia is your friend here - as per their usual script, they were mostly interested in the fun-value of a swimming pool full of custard... the test subject did indeed run over it until he got to the middle, was told to stop... and then sank).

        Now I'm sure it's not actually custard in this goo (well, fairly sure) but the phenomenon is certainly not new and has been known for a while. What seems new is that this is a much lower liquidity and viscosity than most of these substances (it appears to be at the level of clay or playdough rather than a flowing liquid) - which clearly makes for a whole new range of practical applications, since it won't soak into things or leak, you can make things like laptop protective cases lined with the stuff which would be impractical with custard....

        • by Kuroji (990107)

          Actually, by all appearances, it's just a bright orange variety of the Smart Mass that ThinkGeek sells.

        • by maharb (1534501)

          I think I will wrap my iPod in custard. It will be cheaper.

    • Re:I don't get it.. (Score:5, Informative)

      by k-sound (718684) on Monday August 31, 2009 @06:14AM (#29258635)
      A squishy material just softens the impact by slowing the deceleration of your momentum. The problem is if the impact force is high you need a lot of padding to soften the blow. By turning solid on impact you material instantly distributes all this force over a large area i.e. all the force isn't released on e.g. the corner of your laptop causing it to shatter. This is similar to putting a hard cover around your object (like a motorcycle helmet). The advantage of this material is that is is flexible in it's normal state so it can met integrated in clothing etc without limiting movement.

      This video has a great example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JceDaEMIHKE&feature=related [youtube.com]
      They use a cap with the material to protect a watermelon from impact with a hammer. With a normal squishy material you'd need a really thick layer to soften a blow like that and a hard material would restrict movement.

      It's a kind of best of both worlds solution.
    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      My guess is that it will be layered with other material.
      By turning hard it will spread out the impact over a larger area.
      A good example of how can work would be to take two sheets of foam. Hit one with a tack hammer.
      Take a piece of plywood and put it on the other sheet of foam and hit that with a tack hammer.hammer.
      So use a layer of the goo and a layer of foam.

  • flubber?
  • by ZorbaTHut (126196) on Monday August 31, 2009 @05:05AM (#29258425) Homepage

    Impact resistance is complicated, but there's parts that are very, very simple. Let's say you drop your laptop from five feet up. When it hits the ground, it'll be going at a certain velocity (I am currently too lazy to calculate it) with a certain amount of momentum. That velocity and momentum will go into crushing the impact point against the ground. If the impact point is forced to decelerate rapidly, and is a small enough point, it'll be subject to a huge amount of force. Boom, shattered plastic.

    Now we add padding. The thing about padding is that it doesn't actually reduce the velocity or momentum in any way (in fact, unless it's literally weightless, it *increases* momentum.) It also doesn't change the basic physical requirements - that momentum will get absorbed somewhere. Guaranteed.

    There's two ways the padding helps. First, it lets your dropped object decelerate more slowly - instead of having to go from fall to stop in a tiny distance (namely, the amount your laptop plastic deforms without permanent damage) it goes from fall to stop in a much larger distance - the distance that the padding can be compressed. (Plus the plastic deformation.)

    Second, it provides - potentially - a larger impact zone, distributing the force more equally over the plastic of the laptop. A force that would shatter a corner may not do much at all distributed over a few square inches.

    The first part, unfortunately, has some very basic physical limits. If the padding is an eighth of an inch thick, it will provide, at most, an eighth of an inch of extra speed reduction. There is just no way to improve this until you fit your shock absorber with little rockets and sensors to determine when it's about to impact the ground.

    The second part is a lot more theoretically capable, but also a whole lot harder to solve. The ideal situation is a material that somehow deforms at the impact spot in exactly the manner that lets it stop at its maximum deformation point, without any extra jerks or impacts, while simultaneously spreading the impact over the entire surface of the protected item.

    That is a damn hard thing to accomplish. If he's succeeded in it, or in anything remotely like it, I'm impressed.

    The press releases seem to feel that d3o is absolutely fantastic for human garments, where the fabric has to be malleable until the impact occurs. That's quite different from electronics protection, where malleability is simply not an issue, and I'm not convinced that it will make the changeover smoothly.

    We'll see.

  • by Anonymous Coward


    • by JohnFluxx (413620)

      BTW, I did something similar using custard powder (Which is basically just cornstarch + colouring) and it worked just as well.

      Just put custard powder in a bowl then add a small amount of water. It's great fun to play with.

  • Silly Putty? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by LS (57954) on Monday August 31, 2009 @05:11AM (#29258461) Homepage

    And this differs from Silly Putty how?

  • by jsse (254124) on Monday August 31, 2009 @05:12AM (#29258463) Homepage Journal
    Isn't that something every man wanted? Sounds like a perfect material for condom!

    Though I'd worry orange penis would turn off sex desire.
  • Old News (Score:5, Informative)

    by SJ2000 (1128057) on Monday August 31, 2009 @05:20AM (#29258493) Homepage

    14 September 2006

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8EBWGbhsuws [youtube.com]

    • by adamchou (993073)
      hell, i learned this in my high school science class. just add corn starch to water.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Ma8thew (861741)
        And you have a huge mess. But this goo retains and will return to its original shape.
  • Does this remind anyone else of the armorgel in Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash?

    Liquid that hardens on impact, mostly used in body armor, looks like gritty jello... Certainly sounds like the same kinda stuff.

    I hope Stephenson's getting a cut. So many things from that book have come to pass that I'm getting worried about an insane Aelut showing up with a nuke...

    • by Barny (103770)

      Yeah, he should get a cut for describing non-Newtonian fluids...

      Good foresight, yes, getting a cut of something that has been around for a LONG time, no.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 31, 2009 @05:37AM (#29258543)

    My professor in engineering mechanics showed me a sample of a material with very similar color and characteristics sometime around october '08. Now I know, where I can get a sample for goofing around ;)

    However, this won't protect your precious harddisk. It works very well for protecting humans, mainly because it adapts to the form of the pressing surfaces (aka your head and a wall) and then distributes the pressure over a bigger area. It does almost nothing though for the rate of deceleration - face it, your notebook, falling from the table goes from v^2=2*g*s (s= table height, let's say 0.8m)=4m/s to zero in about - well, let's say 1mm as this stuff gets rigid very quickly. This makes it face a deceleration of 8000g. Hell, let's say 5mm and it's still 1600g. Nope, this won't save your harddisk as they're rated for 300 to 500g in every direction and a lot less when active. Thinking about it, it seems like a good idea for the notebook to come apart on impact, as this might give your harddisk another few millimeters for controlled deceleration and thus keep it withing mechanical specs.

    In other words: Yes, the surface of your precious Macbook will be scratchfree after the fall, the harddisk will still be toast.

    • by silanea (1241518) on Monday August 31, 2009 @06:04AM (#29258613)

      In other words: Yes, the surface of your precious Macbook will be scratchfree after the fall, the harddisk will still be toast.

      So? A new harddisk is cheaper than a new laptop. And since you diligently maintained your backups...

      • by Miamicanes (730264) on Monday August 31, 2009 @08:00AM (#29259007)

        > So? A new harddisk is cheaper than a new laptop. And since you diligently maintained your backups...

        Mod parent WAY up. It might be irrelevant for netbooks and cheap notebooks from Best Buy, but if you're talking about a kilobuck+ Macbook or high-end performance notebook, the hard drive isn't just one of its cheapest components... it's also one of its few components that can be easily replaced by end users, with a part that's readily-available even in small towns, often on sale, and frequently would result in improved performance over the original part. Try buying a new Thinkpad keyboard, Macbook case, or Dell motherboard at Best Buy on Sunday afternoon at some city in the midwestern US with a population of ~500k living within a fifty-mile radius. Hell, with the possible exceptions of Silicon Valley, Hong Kong, and Akihabara , I doubt whether there's anyplace you could walk into a retail store and buy stuff like that at all, let alone on a weekend.

        • by temojen (678985)
          Actually, you can order most of these parts from Dell and Lenovo if your laptop or it's damage is not covered by warranty.
        • by darthflo (1095225)

          I'm thinking a lot of effort may be going in just the opposite direction. Most of the people spending (justified) kilobucks on notebooks tend to either be enthusiasts or companies equipping key employees.

          For the former, not having that favourite toy/tool/device some work is done on sometimes probably sucks quite a bit but won't really cause any monetary impact through missed deadlines or similar. They may be gamers, Apple customers or Bloggers. Lots of pretty, high-powered models to go around, probably the

    • Does this apply to harddisks with parked heads, or just those in use? The macbook has had accelerometers for years to autopark the heads if you drop it. I expect that they've made it onto windows machines now as well. Does this change the problem, or or does the deceleration still kill the disk?

      • by Bazar (778572)

        HD's can cover about 20g while in use. So as long as there are no sudden jerks, its fine for even mobile use.
        When the drive heads are parked, its about 200-300g. Which is enough for small falls, and large jerks.

        For all the talk about HD's being protected, its actually the casing and the motherboard that stands to benefit. Hell, newer laptops have the HD bay easily accessible for HD replacement.
        But if the case is damaged, then the whole thing needs to be repaired. A laptop with a a damaged power socket, or b

      • by Ma8thew (861741) on Monday August 31, 2009 @07:26AM (#29258881)
        Continuing their history of innovation, my MacBook parks the heads of its SSD during a sudden drop. Beat that Dell.
      • by Mia'cova (691309)

        Correct me if I'm wrong but I'm pretty sure IBM introduced the 'park the heads when dropped' tech for their thinkpad.

    • by metlin (258108)

      Makes a (I was going to say solid) case for a solid state drive, eh?

      I mean, the more you decrease your moving parts the better.

  • by andylim (1618383) on Monday August 31, 2009 @05:47AM (#29258567) Homepage
    We have a video test of the iBand that shows how d3o works and features a drop test. http://recombu.com/news/tech21-iband-serious-impact-protection-proved-on-video-_M11064-1.html [recombu.com]
  • Oblig. Quotation: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday August 31, 2009 @06:26AM (#29258675) Journal
    "His uniform is black as activated charcoal, filtering the very light out of the air. A bullet will bounce off its arachnofiber weave like a wren hitting a patio door, an excess of perspiration wafts through it like a napalmed forest. Where his body has bony extremities, the suit has sintered armorgel; feels like gritty jello, protects like a stack of telephone books."
  • Box (Score:2, Funny)

    by jbatista (1205630)

    Great! Good thing my boxing gloves are orange, no one is going to notice it. Hehehehe...

  • ThinkGeek has this? (Score:5, Informative)

    by STFS (671004) on Monday August 31, 2009 @07:10AM (#29258805) Homepage
    The behavior of this stuff sounds a bit like the Smart Mass Thinking Putty I have from ThinkGeek.com [thinkgeek.com].
  • by subreality (157447) on Monday August 31, 2009 @07:16AM (#29258829)

    what can only be described as an orange goo

    Around here, we're a technically savvy group with relatively high IQs. You can describe it as a highly viscous non-newtonian fluid containing enough long-chain polymers or waxes to prevent it from flowing freely when at rest, and most of us will get it, and the rest will be able to look it up.

    Assuming you're trying to describe it to a bunch of first graders, you can also describe it as "orange silly putty", and it'll be a hell of a lot more accurate than "orange goo".

    Raise the bar, people.

  • Ringworld (Score:3, Insightful)

    by chthon (580889) on Monday August 31, 2009 @07:21AM (#29258851) Homepage Journal

    Larry Niven and Ringworld, anyone ?

  • Am I the only one who instantly thought of the "securefoam" stuff in the copcar in Demolition Man ?

  • by kpainter (901021) on Monday August 31, 2009 @08:31AM (#29259135)
    Microsoft announces that Steve Balmer is getting his office redecorated. All the furnishings are to be coated with a new high-tech orange "goo". No reason was given as to why.
  • Yay! (Score:5, Funny)

    by BigSes (1623417) on Monday August 31, 2009 @08:52AM (#29259289)
    Trip Hawkins cheers as a typo makes 3DO relevant again for the first time in 15 years.
  • are we sure (Score:2, Informative)

    that it's not OOBLECK? http://www.kinderteacher.com/oobleck.htm [kinderteacher.com]
  • Karatand! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by oren (78897) on Monday August 31, 2009 @10:20AM (#29260205)

    Get a (thick?) glove fill with the stuff. Possibly have the external layer contain some inserts... You can now break sticks and stones - and bones - with impunity. The original concept and the name "Karatand" appear in "Stand on Zanzibar" by John Brunner. It seems you can use 3do as an approximation: http://www.technovelgy.com/ct/content.asp?Bnum=1745 [technovelgy.com]

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