Biomimicry: Shark-Inspired "Skin" for Cars Claims to Improve MPG


Turning Your Car Into a Golf Ball
We're always careful with companies that claim to have products that greatly improve your MPG. Most of them don't work (magazines like Consumer Reports have tested a lot of them), and we often think "If it was that simple, carmakers would be doing it to have a competitive edge." But once in a while we come across an idea that seems to make a lot of sense, in this case, a car wrap that mimics shark skin.

Read on for more details.
Reducing the Adverse Pressure Gradient
We've all heard about how the dimples on a golf ball actually make it go farther. Shark skin is the same way, and that's what inspired SkinzWraps, a company making mostly commercial vehicle wraps, to make a wrap product that has dimples.

The company claims a 18-20% improvement in MPG, and that seems to be confirmed by Dallas blogger Adam McGill who tried it:

The other day, Peter took me on a test drive, showing off the Fast Wrapped Scion's gas mileage. Tooling around the vast, empty parking lots on the northeast side of Fair Park, Peter pointed to the something-ometer, a digital gizmo that gives an even more accurate and up-to-the-minute readout of MPG than the one on the dash. Peter notes that the EPA's site says the Scion in question should be getting 22 city driving and 28 highway. On Monday, we were getting about 28 with stop-and-go, 34 on the highway. He says he's been seeing 27-29 city, 32-35 highway. Not bad. And when you apply such cost savings across a broad fleet, like, say, for UPS ("What can we do for Brown?" Peter wondered often and not at all rhetorically), that adds up to millions pretty quick.

Another interesting anecdote: "[Peter Salaverry, CEO of SkinzWraps,] also recounted a experience during the early testing phases when the efficiency gain he was experiencing was suddenly lost. It turned out that the dimples had filled in with pollen. After washing the car, the extra MPGs returned, confirming the effectiveness of the technology." So very dirty or snow covered cars wouldn't see the full benefits, but then, these already have worse aerodynamics than clean cars.


Independent Testing Needed
Of course, this isn't exactly scientific or independent confirmation. Aerodynamics is a complex field and we would really like to see this product tested by Consumer Reports or Popular Mechanics to make sure it really works as advertised. We're not convinced yet that it works; it's suspicious that nobody else has done this before, including airplane makers. But if it does, we hope that it will become a default feature of most vehicles (especially large fleets: Imagine how much gas UPS trucks could save).

Via SkinzWraps, MaxGladwell
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See also: Nature-Inspired Innovation: 9 Examples of Biomimicry in Action (Slideshow)

Tags: Energy | Energy Efficiency | Fuel Efficiency | Transportation