8 Shark-Inspired Gadgets

It’s Shark Week, or so say the folks at the Discovery Channel. And this month also marks endurance swimmer Diana Nyad’s forth attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida—she spent 41 hours in the water (sans shark cage) trying in earnest to avoid a confrontation with a great white.

In honor of Shark Week and Ms. Nyad’s brave endeavor, here’s my list of top eight sharky gadgets and gizmos.

1. The Volkswagen Beetle Mobile Shark Cage. Engineers from Volkswagen have built a one-of-a-kind mobile shark cage—made of tubular aluminum—which allows divers to interact with sharks. The shark cage can drive along the ocean floor with two propellers. The cage has alloy wheels and the iconic bug headlights. Divers can also hook up to the car’s in-built air system.

2. GPS for Sharks. We don’t know a whole lot about great white sharks, but a transmitter tag which can be attached to a shark’s fin is changing that. The PAT or pop-up archival transmitting tag—made by Redmond, Washington-based Wildlife Computers— is about the size of a handheld microphone and incorporates fast-response thermometers which provide temperature readings every 10 seconds, and a light sensor which indicates the location of the shark each day. The tag detaches from the shark at a predetermined time, bobs to the surface and transmits data to Argos satellite receivers.

3. Antibacterial Surfaces for Hospitals. Sharks remain surprisingly free of algae and barnacles. And Sharklet Technologies has found a way to cash in on this phenomenon. It makes medical equipment covered with a sharklet-textured film which mimics the pattern of sharkskin, repelling bacteria and helping to prevent infection and the spread of disease.

4. From Sharkskin to FASTSKIN. Speedo studied the texture of a shark’s skin and found that the dentciles—tiny teeth-like columns which cover the sharks body—have a pattern which helps reduce drag in the water. Speedo has reproduced this pattern in the FASTSKIN (worn by Michael Phelps). The knitted super-stretch nylon/elastane/polyester fabric has V-shaped ridges and a denticle surface print. This means that water is sucked closer to the body and then passes over the swimmer far more effectively.

5. Aerodynamic Surfaces for Vehicles. A company called SkinzWraps, which makes commercial vehicle wraps in wild designs and colors, has developed the Fastskinz wrap with dimples which helps to streamline cars and make them more fuel-efficient. The Fastskinz improves MPG 18 to 20 percent for traditional internal combustion engine vehicles and 20 to 25 percent for gasoline hybrid vehicles, according to the company.

 6. The Audi Shark. A concept car imagined by Kazim Doku, a car designer who lives in Turkey. He won the Desire Design Competition in 2008 co-sponsored by Audi and Milan’s Domus Academy. Named the Audi Shark, the car is a futuristic rendition of a hovercraft.

7. Ocean Energy Harvester. Sydney, Australia-based Bio-Power Systems is investigating how best to tap into the renewable energy of wave and tides. The company’s bioStream system mimics the tail fin of a shark. A single point of rotation allows the tail to align with the current’s flow. The company hopes the system could generate 250 kilowatts to 1000 kilowatts, depending on the location.

8. Shark Repellent. Not something you spray on yourself to repel sharks, but rather a half-dollar-sized metal alloy—developed by Shark Defense, and Canadian manufacturer HEFA—clamped onto fishing gear which protects sharks by creating a mild electrical current. While only 4.3 people die of unprovoked shark attacks on average each year, humans kill an estimated 73 million sharks each year. Sharks are sometimes caught intentionally and their fins cut off for soups, but many more are inadvertently caught on fishing gear meant for tuna and swordfish.

Photo: VW USA

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