By Roland PiquepailleDespite all the hype surrounding nanotechnology, there are actually hundreds of real products available today. Forbes.com had the good idea to select ten nanotech products that you can purchase right now. It goes from high-performance ski wax to a breathable waterproof ski jacket, or from an OLED digital camera to performance sunglasses coated with nanofilm layers 150 nanometers thick. My two preferred products are a $250 tennis racket, with a 3-ball pack of nanotech tennis balls to go with it, at a cost of $4.49. And guess what, these tennis balls have already been approved by such organizations as the Davis Cup.
Let's start with the tennis racket.
Each year tennis racket manufacturers, from Wilson and Prince to Head and Yonex, vie to introduce the most technologically advanced and highly engineered products. In the 1970s, it was aluminum; the 1980s, graphite; the 1990s, titanium. Now comes nanotechnology.
The 127-year-old French manufacturer Babolat (Macromedia Flash Player necessary) introduced the VS Nanotube Power racket in 2002, retailing for $250. The Nanotube Power and VS Nanotube Drive lightweight, oversized-head models are made out of high modulus graphite with carbon nanotubes supplied by France's Nanoledge. One hundred times stronger than steel, yet one-sixth the weight, carbon nanotubes increase the rigidity of the stabilizers on each side of the racket's sweet spot. Babolat credits this with increasing torsion more than 50%--and flex resistance upwards of 20%. The result? VS Nanotube rackets are five times more rigid than current carbon rackets and pack significantly more power.
Here are the key characteristics and advantages provided by the use of nanotechnology, according to the manufacturer, who also says its rackets are not available in the U.S.
Now, what about nanotech tennis balls?
Regular balls left out of the can become flat and unplayable after two weeks or less. But Wilson Double Core tennis balls, with Hillsborough, N.J.-based InMat Air D-Fense nanocomposite product inside, remain playable for four weeks. Sure, they cost about $1.50 more per can, but you double the life of the balls for half the incremental cost of a new can of ordinary tennis balls.
InMat founder and President Harris Goldberg says that natural rubber -- which is required to obtain the correct bounce--is very permeable. So InMat makes it harder for the air to escape by coating the ball's inner core with 20 microns thick of layered sheets of clay polymer nanocomposites -- each 1 nanometer thin. There is no change in bounce or weight, and the player can't tell the difference. Wilson's Double-Core Balls are now the official balls of the Davis Cup.
As you can see, nanotechnology is becoming mainstream. Let's see what 2004 will bring us.
Source: Robert Paull, The Forbes/Wolfe Nanotech Report, December 29, 2003
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