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Future cars may give themselves dimples to reduce drag

Jon Fingas , @jonfingas

Golf balls are dimpled for a reason -- they sail through the air just slowly enough that the uneven surface reduces drag, helping them fly farther than they might otherwise. Wouldn't it be nice if your car could get that kind of aerodynamic boost? It might, if MIT's newly developed morphable surface becomes a practical reality. The technology creates dimples on the fly by sucking the air out of a hollow ball with both a stiff, rubber-like skin on top and a soft material just below. The result is odd-looking to say the least, but it's effective. It can wrinkle itself to cut down on air resistance when it's traveling slowly, yet smooth itself out to minimize drag at high speed.

Vehicles would be the most likely to benefit from the concept, and researchers already foresee transportation whose panels dimple to improve your mileage. However, the shrinking surfaces would be useful for completely stationary objects, too -- radar domes and other vulnerable buildings could suck in their exteriors to minimize wind resistance and prevent a collapse. MIT still has a lot of work to do before these wrinkling materials reach shipping products, but don't be surprised if you're eventually driving a car that looks like something Titleist would make.