Phenomena

Tokyo 2020: Future Swim Tech

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Recent controversies over swimsuit technologies haven’t damped the creativity of Speedo’s marketing staff. They recently unveiled Fastskin 4.0, a futuristic concept designed for the swimmers of 2040*. They’ve envisioned a custom-made, biodegradable, self-powered swimsuit that looks like a superhero’s costume. Some of the technologies strike me as extremely pie-in-the-sky, but a few of them have at least some basis in reality. Of particular interest to us, of course, are the Dynamic Flow Zones and the Shark Skin Boosters, two features intended to minimize drag and boost speed.

The Dynamic Flow Zones seem to be part of a built-in exoskeleton around the swimmer’s midriff, and they are apparently inspired by the underbelly of whales. At least one study shows that similar ridges on whale sharks help reduce flow separation on their bodies, but — given the vastly different swim styles of a human and a whale shark — it’s unclear to me that these structures would help a human swimmer. It also seems as though their helpfulness would be strongly dependent on what stroke the swimmer was using.

As for the Shark Skin Boosters, a shark’s skin does, in fact, helps its speed and agility. Individual denticles on the shark can (passively) bristle when flow near the skin tries to reverse direction. The adaptation helps them shut down flow separation before it happens, thereby maintaining flow control and low drag. Additionally, studies of 3D-printed shark skin have shown that the right texture can provide a speed boost. It would take some work to figure out just the right texture to adapt the shark’s ability to a human swimmer, but this is one feature of Fastskin 4.0 that isn’t just science fiction. (Image and video credit: Speedo; via Gizmodo)

*To be 100% clear, this product does not exist and likely never will.

Join us all this week for more Olympic-themed fluid dynamics!

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