The idea of adding golf ball-style aerodynamic dimples to a car isn’t new, but a recent scientific discovery could bring it much closer to reality.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has developed a small ball with a ‘morphable skin’, affectionately dubbed ‘smorph’ (smart morable skin).
Not only does smorph make a car’s outer surface much more aerodynamic - improving fuel consumption and acceleration times - but at rest the surface returns to its pre-dimpled state of smoothness.
It’s this property that could convince the industry that smorph has a future as an alternative to current painting methods, as a car will no longer be ‘strange’ or ‘ugly’ to look at while it’s parked.
As the air is expelled from the smorph (for example, a car gathering speed), the inner section shrinks but the outer ‘skin’ is sucked in to reveal the golf ball dimples with their undisputed aerodynamic properties.
But eventually the speed would be too great for the dimples to offer any benefit, and that’s when smorph can return to its smooth state to again give the car the best chance of slipping through the air.
Carmakers could adopt the 'permanent' golf-ball look tomorrow, but surely none would be brave enough to attempt to sell a car with such unusual styling.
While there would be no escaping the dimpled look when a smorph-equipped vehicle is underway, buyers may be willing to overlook that aspect knowing that the designer’s styling lines will be returned when the vehicle is stationary (perhaps at a car show).
The ‘Fastskinz’ company offered a permanent golf-ball treatment for cars around five years ago, but the results of fuel economy testing showed no improvement.
However television program Mythbusters had great success when it added dimples to a test car for an episode in 2009, improving fuel consumption from 9.1 to 8.2 l/100km.
MIT recognises that smorph is a long way from adorning the outside of new cars (and many other applications), but initial results are promising.