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Will Your Next Car Be Covered In Morphing Dimples? 138

Posted by samzenpus
from the slicing-down-the-highway dept.
cartechboy writes Golfing and cars, not much in common there. But that's about to change thanks to a new technology from a research lab at MIT called Smorphs. The idea is simple: put a set of dynamic dimples on the exterior of a car to improve its surface aerodynamics and make it slipperier, and therefore faster. Pedro Reis is the mechanical engineering and research spearheading this project. A while ago Mythbusters proved the validity of the dimpled car form in a much more low-tech way. The concept uses a hollow core surrounded by a thick, deformable layer, and a smoother outer skin. When vacuum is applied, the outer layers suck in to form the dimples. The technology is only in its very earliest stages, but we could see this applied to future vehicles in an effort to make them faster and more fuel efficient.
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Will Your Next Car Be Covered In Morphing Dimples?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 25, 2014 @02:07AM (#47529173)

    My wife's car just had $10k worth of hail damage repaired via insurance. You're telling me that on her future vehicle we will be expected to pay extra for the "animated hail dimples" option?

    • Not just that, it'll also cost $30k to repair actual hail damage. You'll be better off buying a new car eveytime it gets a dent.
      • maybe but enterprise rent a car will bill you the 30K + lost of use even when a new car costs less.

  • by Max_W (812974) on Friday July 25, 2014 @02:11AM (#47529189)
    It is a lot. Why car industry does not make cars like this?
    • by Mashiki (184564)

      Don't worry, I'm sure speed holes are up next.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      TESLA wants to replace side vision mirrors with tiny camera's, as side mirrors add 10% to drag apparently. That would be easier to do I'd imagine.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Because it's ugly, and when developing a new car costs something in the range of billions, you'll get very risk-averse, particularly since such a chassis shape is hard to explain to average joe. Always remember that people in general are stupid and don't believe facts....

      However, have you noticed the small "7"-shaped slits in the side of the newer BMW models? Those have the same intention of reducing drag on the chassis, and I am sure other manufacturers are working on similar solution

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by mrbester (200927)

      They do. Compare a European car with a US one. Faster with smaller, more fuel efficient engines.

      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by CauseBy (3029989)

        It's true that Euro cars go a little farther on the same gasoline. In America we weigh the tradeoff between safety and fuel efficiently differently than they do in Europe. That's why many European cars aren't allowed on America's roads, because they don't meet our standards. The Euro-built cars on American roads are designed to meet America's higher safety standards. Likewise, American cars don't meet some European standards, but not because of safety.

        Are Euro cars really faster? I have a hard time believin

        • by Wing_Zero (692394)
          They have the Autobon, A speed limit free road, and they constantly reach speeds of 95+. In America meanwhile, have you ever seen a SmartCar going down the freeway? Looks odd when it weaves in and out of traffic, but it has a power/weight ratio that rivals some sedans. (made by Mercedes BTW, a European car company)
          • by Mashiki (184564)

            You mean Germany has the autobahn. And seen a smart car going down the freeway, usually they're fighting to keep the car on the road about the time they get hit by draft buffeting. I even saw one manage to lose it, spin out, and disintegrate after getting hit by buffeting on a wet highway.

          • by mattack2 (1165421)

            No, smart cars are made/owned by Daimler AG, not Mercedes.

            (I drive a smart electric, and it goes just fine on the freeway.)

    • by Pentium100 (1240090) on Friday July 25, 2014 @03:59AM (#47529483)

      Because it looks ugly. Also, the laws in my country limit the maximum speed to 130km/h, so I don't care that denting the car will make it faster - I can break the law already if I want (my not very aerodynamic car made in 1982 with 80kW gasoline engine running on LPG can go at around 165km/h (and going 35km/h over the limit would result in a huge fine)), I do not really need a faster car). Also, saving 11% money on fuel but having to buy a new car would not pay off unless you drive a lot.

      • by gurps_npc (621217) on Friday July 25, 2014 @08:11AM (#47530345) Homepage
        Bull. It does not look ugly. It looks strange to you only because you have never seen it before. Let them start making it and all the young kids will say how cool it looks. (Look at what the silly things like in music!)

        As for your argument about 11%, you are a very ignorant. It is not about replacing your car, but about making the NEXT car you buy 11% more fuel efficient.

        • Just because kids like the music they like does not mean that I do too.

          • by gurps_npc (621217)
            True, but my point is that 'ugly' is not and never has been a reason not to make or sell a product that has an efficiency advantage over another product.

            Pretty/Ugly only affects otherwise equal products.

            Or are you telling me that you do don't think an ugly computer would sell, if people had the chance to buy a pretty version with half the RAM? (all other things being equal)

            • In some cases yes. It all depends on the priorities and how much weight one assigns to various parameters. Efficiency is not the only feature of a car.

              For example - I am willing to pay extra for fuel (since my car consumes more), to have a car that I can maintain/repair myself (mostly) and that to me looks better.

              I have a CRT TV now (because it was cheap (used), shows analog SD content very well and can show 720p), but if I decide to get a newer TV, I will most likely buy a plasma because it has better imag

      • by poetmatt (793785)

        If every car looks this way, the argument of "ugly" is nonexistent. 11% economy would pay off to everyone at all times, including for EV's as well. It's not whether you drive a lot or not, it's just a flat benefit.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Pentium100 (1240090)

          If every car looks this way, the argument of "ugly" is nonexistent.

          Well, I already slightly dislike the look of every modern car, one of the reasons I love old cars - the manufacturers tried to make a car that looks good, they were not focusing all their effort to make the car as efficient as possible.

          It's not whether you drive a lot or not, it's just a flat benefit.

          Let's say the new car costs $20k and uses half the fuel that my current car uses.
          For $20k I could buy a lot of fuel for my current car, let's say it will be enough to go 100000km.
          So, my old car costs $0.2/km to

    • It is a lot. Why car industry does not make cars like this?

      The people that would be interested in this already have very fuel efficient cars. Therefor the effect would be negligible on the types of vehicles they're buying. Where-as the effect would have the most dramatic effect on the SUV buyers... who clearly don't give a shit about efficiency. It's a Catch-22.

      • There's also the people who think they "need" an SUV but get upset about how much they have to pay for fuel. It's a stupid market, but that market exists.

        • And their solution is to drill more oil in currently protected reefs and forests. Yes, lets kill everyone's envionment so you can drive like an asshole in an suv cheaper. Where do I sign up?
      • by rmdingler (1955220) on Friday July 25, 2014 @08:12AM (#47530351)
        Tractor trailers would seemingly benefit the most.

        Given the trucking industry's current interest in aerodynamic additions that are not necessarily aesthetic,

        I would say that's your target market.

        • If they can make this work at a reasonable cost the trucking industry is defiantly a place I’d expect to see it. After all fuel efficiency is one of the biggest factors in whether a trucking company makes money or not. I am not sure a dynamic system such as being described in the article makes that much sense for cars and trucks. Making some sort of prefabricated body panels that have some pattern permanent imprinted it in seems like it would be much cheaper and require less long term maintenance. E

          • by jbengt (874751)
            Aircraft designers already pay attention to separation of the airflow from the vehicle body (which is what the dimples reduce, by mixing higher velocity flows into the boundary layer). The long, streamlined, tapers at the tail do a better job than blunt objects with dimples. And many wings have small, angled fins along their length to ensure that the flow stays attached to the top of the wing and flows across the wing camber rather than following along the length of the swept-back wing.
          • by dj245 (732906)

            If they can make this work at a reasonable cost the trucking industry is defiantly a place I’d expect to see it. After all fuel efficiency is one of the biggest factors in whether a trucking company makes money or not. I am not sure a dynamic system such as being described in the article makes that much sense for cars and trucks. Making some sort of prefabricated body panels that have some pattern permanent imprinted it in seems like it would be much cheaper and require less long term maintenance.

            Dimples are a place for water to collect. Paint nowadays is pretty good, but any break in the paint on a dimpled car would be a big rust problem really quick. It would be a nightmare to repair after an accident. Even if you think the dimples look good, when the water evaporates it will leave water spots and look terrible.

            • by Reziac (43301) *

              So you do it on the sides (which naturally drain), but not on the roof (which doesn't), and possibly on the undersurface (if practical). The sides are about 2/3rds of the surface area of a big truck box anyway. But per this interesting comment from an AC:
              http://tech.slashdot.org/comme... [slashdot.org]
              the benefit is speed-related, and "always drives at the same speed" is an absurd assumption for a car, let alone for a big truck.

              Occurs to me to wonder, tho, what happens with drag if you reverse the dimples (as one would to

      • by CauseBy (3029989)

        "SUV buyers... don't give a shit about efficiency."

        This is nonsense. Give me a 45 MPG SUV and I'll give you $30,000 in return. Give me a 45 MPG car that seats two adults and zero carseats, and I won't give you anything, because that car is worthless to me. People buy SUVs because they solve problems, not because they love to pay for extra gasoline. It's the same reason we live in houses instead of mud huts and wipe our asses with toilet paper instead of tree leaves.

    • by Rolgar (556636)

      How easy will it be to clean when the dimples fill with bug guts compared to a smooth surface? Get enough of the dimples filled with crap, and not only will the car look awful, but it'll probably have worse aerodynamics than the smooth car.

    • by Solandri (704621)
      I can think of lots of reasons.
      • It's expensive. Stamping or rolling a sheet of metal into a flat shape or single-curved is quick and easy. Adding lots of little dimples takes time and adds cost. While I can't say how much cost, some or most of the fuel savings may be offset by additional energy consumed during manufacturing.
      • The mechanism for forming the dimples may not be cost-effective. A similar idea was tried with planes - NASA drilled lots of holes in the wing and attached suction tubes to keep th
      • The 11% figure is from Mythbusters too, there's an actual company, Fastskinz, which builds much more subtle looking coverings which failed to make the grade in one test: Fastskinz Test Drive: Can a Golf Ball Covering Improve MPGs? - Popular Mechanics [popularmechanics.com]

        Along the way, we periodically checked the fuel-economy readout on the dash display of both vehicles. At 139.9 miles, the Fastskinz Flex was returning 27.2 mpg while the unwrapped Flex showed 28.4 mpg. At 271.1 miles, the Fastskinz Flex was delivering 23.7 mpg

        • by Reziac (43301) *

          I'm wondering if it's more efficient only in limited speed ranges, and at other ranges actually increases drag.

          But nominally-identical vehicles often get different MPG (my truck gets almost double what other supposedly identical trucks get!), and that MPG can change over time as well, so given how small the differences reported are, in this case it may be individual vehicle variance.

  • Your next supercar will be ugly as hitting your father with a sweaty sock, but really efficient because, as we all know, people buy supercars for their efficiency.

    • by rsborg (111459) on Friday July 25, 2014 @02:35AM (#47529271) Homepage

      Your next supercar will be ugly as hitting your father with a sweaty sock, but really efficient because, as we all know, people buy supercars for their efficiency.

      Let's turn it around - *some* or "a lot* of people who buy super cars (especially of the electric variety) buy cars for their efficiency (speed/mileage).

      Notes:
      a) not all or nothing - a big enough niche where you dominate (and erect defenses from encroachment) will provide a solid business model and sustainable profits.
      b) speed requires efficiency, unless you plan on putting rocket fuel into your afterburner.
      c) I always thought dimples were sexy on a girl, why not a car?

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Let's turn it around - *some* or "a lot* of people who buy super cars (especially of the electric variety) buy cars for their efficiency (speed/mileage).

        There are no electric supercars. Audi is about to bring out an electric R8 with a top speed of 124. My 1989 240SX would get there, if you defeated the rev limiter.

        • by maroberts (15852)

          The claimed 0-60 time for a Tesla S is 4.2 seconds, which compares better or at least favourably with many supercars. The Roadster was even better at 3.7 seconds.
          Max speed is electronically limited at around 125/130mph,

          Similar the apocryphal Bill Gates quote, I could say that no one would want to go faster, but having experienced 165mph on roads, I know different....

        • by gurps_npc (621217)
          Uninformed. Ever hear of Tesla? They are the definition of electric supercars/
          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            Uninformed. Ever hear of Tesla? They are the definition of electric supercars/

            A supercar needs to have top speed. It doesn't have to be over 200 mph, but it does need to be up there. Tesla makes zero cars with high top speed. For 5-10k you can buy a used Audi A8 (yes, just the A8 and defeat the limiter to get somewhere between 170 and 180 mph. (All cars not limited to 155 for euro-compliance are limited to 130 mph, for inadequate stock tires, depending on the model.) There are many wonderful things about the Teslas, and how fast do you need to go anyway? But they're not supercars. If

    • by NoKaOi (1415755)

      Your next supercar will be ugly as hitting your father with a sweaty sock, but really efficient because, as we all know, people buy supercars for their efficiency.

      People buy super cars because they consider them to be cool (and they have nothing better to spend their money on). New technology is cool. If this is cool new tech, a super car seems like a logical place to start. Also note that efficiency isn't necessarily solely fuel economy, but can also affect top speed.

      As far as making it's way into the mass market...it seems like the "morphing" would be the expensive part. Why not just have it be a fixed dimple on a mass-production car? Perhaps it wouldn't be qu

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        "People buy super cars because they consider them to be cool (and they have nothing better to spend their money on)."

        True

        "New technology is cool."

        Not true. Some new technology is cool, but not all. Relevant case in point is the engines used in supercars, where you will often see naturally aspirated V8s, V10s etc used not because they are the latest, most efficient tech, but because they sound great, and people expect a supercar to sound awesome, efficiency is secondary.

        "If this is cool new tech, a super car

        • by shitzu (931108)

          "New technology is cool."

          Not true. Some new technology is cool, but not all. Relevant case in point is the engines used in supercars, where you will often see naturally aspirated V8s, V10s etc used not because they are the latest, most efficient tech, but because they sound great, and people expect a supercar to sound awesome, efficiency is secondary.

          He said "cool" not "efficient".

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      Most people buy supercars for the aesthetic allusions to cutting-edge technology, not because they genuinely benefit from the disk brakes, carbon fibre, or exposed engine parts that accomplish that allusion. I mean, they even put that stuff in vehicle ranges that genuinely have no need for it, because it's part of the "performance" style. I dare say that if golf ball dimpling (probably strategically deployed on particular parts of the chassis) starts appearing in, say, F1 racing - where efficiency is a diff

    • Lowering air resistance is something that is important to super cars, as it increases max speed.
  • but screw the mpg if i'm riding around with a vacuum attached to the outside of my car.
  • by Coolhand2120 (1001761) on Friday July 25, 2014 @02:24AM (#47529231)
    From the Simpsons
    Car salesman: "These are speed holes, they make the car go faster"
    Krusty: "Oh yeah, speed holes"
    http://www.mercedescla.org/for... [mercedescla.org]
    • by creepynut (933825)

      That's actually Homer after having attended Krusty's clown college (episode: Homie the Clown).

      • Ah, it's been too long! I remembered the speed holes but not the story! I know it's the mob that makes the speed holes ;)
    • Glad I'm not the only one who thought about that after reading the summary.

  • The concept reminds me of a reverse-Vac-Man [wikipedia.org], where the dimples go in, instead of out.
  • Seems like an awfully complicated way to get aerodynamic dimples on a large surface when there's not much of a compelling reason for them not to be there permanently, Which would be orders of magnitude cheaper to do with long-existing technology.

  • Dimples on a car? Like a golf ball car [mycarforum.com]?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Just leave the car out in a Hail storm to get Dimples. Then use the bicycle.

  • by dohzer (867770)

    Nope. What else would you like to know about my next car purchase?

  • by Trogre (513942) on Friday July 25, 2014 @03:35AM (#47529441) Homepage

    After so many "Your next car" posts on Slashdot presenting anti-features like MS Windows, brain control or remote disabling systems, finally here's a story with a feature that might actually benefit being added to a car.

    Well done.

  • So, did Mythbusters beat them to it? ;-) Good to see the article acknowledges that episode.
  • No.

    Nor will the following:
          Boeing 777x
          Airbus 330neo
          Bombardier C Series
          Tesla Model 3
          Any Ferrari
          Any Jaguar
          Any BMW
          Any Mercedes

    • by SlashDread (38969)

      Yes.

      BMW for instance, has research dedicated to "morphing skins" for both design and efficiency angles.

  • by Alci12 (698263)
    Dimples on a car it will be teased by all the other vehicles. Think of the counselling it will need :-)
  • All that complexity of wrapping an airtight skin around sheet metal with holes, a vacuum system to create dimples on the fly... All to get some fuel efficiency through lower drag? An plug in electric car effectively buys as at some 2$ a gallon. Still, the extra price of battery makes the break even time longer than the life of the car. And what kind of pay back period for ugly looking warty lumpy bumpy car?

    There are tons of complex technologies to reduce drag. Boundary layer suction for example. Drill smal

    • by Reziac (43301) *

      Okay, since the effect is apparently speed-related -- your thought about channels underneath made me wonder if an air intake feeding a channel system could be designed to regulate that airflow according to forward speed, and therefore regulate dimpling, without the tedium and moving parts of yet another pump.

  • Great! Now if I have an accident I can claim I was improving your car by making it more aerodynamic.

  • Why aren't aircraft covered in them? 10% is a big difference in the aviation industry.

    • I would guess that most aircraft travel at a speed where the dimples are detrimental rather than beneficial. The article notes that, if golf balls traveled fast enough, they would be better off with smooth skin. Probably, 400-550 mph is above the threshold of "fast enough".

    • by gurps_npc (621217)
      1) The effect varies tremendously at different speeds. At really high speeds it does nothing.

      2)The aircraft itself is designed to carefully redirect the air in a very specific manner to create lift, not to reduce drag. The dimples,. even if they were helpful on lift (which is not discussed at all here), would make this far more complicated. Maybe someday someone will do the research to figure out if they help lift, but we don't know that yet.

    • by ibwolf (126465)

      Because they only reduce drag at low speeds. At high speeds (commercial airlines fly at Mach 0.8-0.85 usually) they would increase drag, not lower it.

    • by jbengt (874751)
      Aircraft are not blunt objects, so they don't need as much help in keeping the airflow attached. Wings often have little angled vanes, (which do a better, more precise job of mixing high speed air into the boundary layer than dimples do) in order to keep the flow from detaching, and to keep the air moving across the wing rather than along it.
    • by Fnord666 (889225)

      Why aren't aircraft covered in them? 10% is a big difference in the aviation industry.

      Because the wings generate lift by keeping the laminar airflow attached to the upper surface for as long as possible. Disrupting this would effectively reduce the functional surface area of the wing and produce a significant loss in efficiency.

  • If this car technology comes to fruition, the initial cost will likely place it in the realm of BMW and Mercedes owners for at least the first 5 years. net gains from it may only be realized 25 years down the road, and its ability to reduce carbon emissions or fossil fuel consumption at whatever scale its adopted will be dwarfed in comparisson to easier, more readily available technologies like light-rail, bicycles, and busses.

    Im geneally cynical about efficiency in automobiles mostly due to empirical
  • This is a big WTF?
    The principles involved are well known and explored unto death to the point that they are high school science project fodder.
    The inspiration/precedent for this particular exercise came from ... a TV show known for its precise experimental process?
    More effective and practical methods of implementing the principles have been in existence for a while, see 'boundary layer control'.

  • Now the whole car will be covered.

    Incidentally, Richard Petty had a vinyl top in '68 and NASCAR outlawed it after everyone else complained of the extra advantage.
  • by Primate Pete (2773471) on Friday July 25, 2014 @08:33AM (#47530539)
    Why not just press dimples into the plastic/fibreglas/metal panels of the car? No expensive technology needed, and "good enough" dimples can just be made part of the parts molds/presses.

    On a second topic, I would be investigating this if I owned a racing team because anything that decreases the fuel consumption of my car improves overall race performance. Skipping a single refueling stop is a big deal. Since the teams are already making custom cars, the cost of adding dimples should be negligible compared to the overall cost of the vehicle. Not quite something for nothing, but close.
    • Based on this AC comment [slashdot.org], it sounds like it would actually hurt at either high or low speeds, hence the morphing aspect to it. The dimples would only be present at the speeds at which they'd actually help.

      So, stamping them in for typical cars may be counter-productive, and racing teams are unlikely to benefit from it.

  • by argStyopa (232550) on Friday July 25, 2014 @08:48AM (#47530691) Journal

    I mean, what is the advantage of a complex vacuum system and the flexible (ie fail-able) skin?

    Just put dimples on the cars. In a single generation, it would go from "looking weird" to normal.

    • by Reziac (43301) *

      No need; I'll just park out in this handy Montana hailstorm. Free dimples!

      Actually, that happened to my old truck -- got hailed on pretty good and had small dimples pretty uniformly over its entire upper surface. Didn't do shit for its MPG. And after a few years the dimples went away (let's hear it for Ford steel!) and you couldn't tell it had ever happened.

  • by tekrat (242117) on Friday July 25, 2014 @09:10AM (#47530913) Homepage Journal

    Is the Elio -- 84MPG with no hybrid nonsense!
    http://www.eliomotors.com/ [eliomotors.com]

  • Since my next car is likely to be a mid-2000s sedan, probably not.
  • I suggest trying dimpled airplanes. They go much faster and hence they experience much more drag. It's fairly easy to try this out, all you need is a hammer. Start hammering!

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