MIT’s Otter-Inspired Wetsuits May Change the Surfing Game

KS_LOGOs2_UnderwaterBeavers and sea otters are known for having this amazing fur that traps air when they dive underwater, helping to keep their little blubber-less bodies warm. This is what inspired MIT engineers to create a fur-like rubbery pelt. They wanted to figure out how these mammals star warm and even dry while diving in and out of icy waters.


The Plan: Make precise, fur-like surfaces of various dimensions, dunk the surfaces in liquid at different speeds, and use video imaging to measure the air that is trapped in the fur during each each dive.

“We are particularly interested in wetsuits for surfing, where the athlete moves frequently between air and water environments,” says Anette (Peko) Hosoi, a professor of mechanical engineering and associate head of the department at MIT. “We can control the length, spacing, and arrangement of hairs, which allows us to design textures to match certain dive speeds and maximize the wetsuit’s dry region.” 

The team at MIT made several molds by laser-cutting thousands of tiny holes in small acrylic blocks. Each mold was altered, varying in size and the spacing of individual hairs. The molds were then filled with a soft casting rubber.

Researchers mounted each hairy piece of rubber and submerged them in silicone oil. They chose oil so they could better observe any air pockets forming.

Results: The team learned that the spacing of individual hairs, and the speed at which they were plunged, played a large role in determining how much air a surface could trap. Surfaces with denser fur, plunged at higher speeds, generally retained more air within the hairs.

So, what does this mean? If you’ve ever worn a wetsuit you know they can be heavy and hard to move around in. Let’s pretend a wetsuit is made out of this fabricated hairy material, using air for insulation instead of soggy rubber. The bio-inspired wetsuit would be lightweight and behave better in water.

Can you imagine? Light, warm, furry wetsuits? I’m in! 🏄

The results were published in the journal Physical Review Fluids. You can view the study here -along with some pretty epic charts, diagrams, and photos. 

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MIT’s Otter-Inspired Wetsuits May Change the Surfing Game

VIDEO: MIT’s Amazing (Slightly Creepy) Robotic Cheetah Can Now Run and Jump Over Hurdles

KS TechnologyMIT’s lifelike DARPA-funded cheetah robot has picked up a few new skills! The slightly terrifying 70 pound robotic creature can now land a running jump and gauge obstacles in its path at varying heights. The new viral footage shows the ‘cheetah’ running at 5 mph on a treadmill and on solid ground, jumping over various hurdles – some up to 18 inches tall!

Published on May 28th – In a leap for robotic development, the MIT researchers who built a robotic cheetah have now trained it to see and jump over hurdles as it runs — making this the first four-legged robot to run and jump over obstacles autonomously.

According to WIRED, MIT will hold a live demonstration of the robot’s running jump at the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals in June, and present the findings from this latest round of tests at robotics conference in July.

The video below explains the technology behind MIT’s Cheetah and the latest testing process. Click here to watch the cheetah playing outside 🙂


Beetle Butt, Beetle Butt, Beetle Butt! – This Insect Shoots Hot Nasty Liquid Out of Its Abdomen

KS Nature

Bombardier beetles are famous in the insect world, not because they have colorfully patterned wings or a nasty bite, but because they have a very unique defense mechanism: When disturbed or attacked, the beetles produce an internal chemical explosion in their abdomen and then expel a jet of boiling, irritating liquid toward their attackers.

Photo: Charles Hedgcock
Photo: Charles Hedgcock

The liquid they eject is called benzoquinone, and they heat it to the temperature of boiling water before they shoot it out in an intense, pulsating jet. They are not the only insect to use this liquid, but they are the only ones to make it steaming hot. Not only that, they are the only ones to emit a pulsating stream, forcing out the liquid with unique precision five times faster!

Researchers were baffled as to how these beetles could produce this spray without causing themselves any physical damage. But, the question has now been answered! Researchers at MIT used high-speed synchrotron X-ray imaging to look inside the abdomens of living bombardier beetles during their chemical explosions. Check out the video below to see the X-ray footage in action!

The key is that they synthesize the chemical at the instant of use, mixing two chemical precursors in a protective chamber in their hindquarters. As the materials combine to form the irritant, they also give off intense heat that brings the liquid almost to the boiling point — and, in the process, generates the pressure needed to expel it in a jet.

The findings are published this week in the journal Science by MIT graduate student Eric Arndt, professor of materials science and engineering Christine Ortiz, Wah-Keat Lee of Brookhaven National Laboratory, and Wendy Moore of the University of Arizona.

Bombardier beetles lives on every continent except Antarctica and have virtually no predators. Sounds like a good life to me 🙂 Spray on, little dudes.

Beetle Butt, Beetle Butt, Beetle Butt! – This Insect Shoots Hot Nasty Liquid Out of Its Abdomen