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How the Wacky Waving Inflatable Tube Man Pulls Off Those Fresh Moves

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 10/17/2017 Eric Tingwall

a drawing of a cartoon character: How the Wacky Waving Inflatable Tube Man Pulls Off Those Fresh Moves© Eric Tingwall How the Wacky Waving Inflatable Tube Man Pulls Off Those Fresh Moves
From the October 2017 issue

Because a 1998 Plymouth Breeze no longer turns heads as it once did, used-car salesmen are masters of countless attention-grabbing gimmicks. Among the tactics, no shtick is simultaneously as eye-catching and absurd as the spastic flail of a perky nylon tube with vaguely human features.

How the Wacky Waving Inflatable Tube Man Pulls off Those Fresh Moves© Provided by Car and Driver How the Wacky Waving Inflatable Tube Man Pulls off Those Fresh Moves

Known as a Tall Boy, Fly Guy, AirDancer, or, more commonly, “that ridiculous thing,” this used-car-lot staple might be the pinnacle of lowbrow marketing, right up there with “buy a car, get a gun.” But there’s a load of no-nonsense science behind the tube man’s random yet seemingly unending pop-and-flop routine. There’s also some brilliance in the simplicity of the thing. A conventional fan turning at a constant speed blows air up through the lightweight nylon sleeve, resulting in pressure fluctuations inside the tube sufficient to incite an AirDancer’s signature samba.

a group of people jumping in front of a crowd: How the Wacky Waving Inflatable Tube Man Pulls off Those Fresh Moves© Provided by Car and Driver How the Wacky Waving Inflatable Tube Man Pulls off Those Fresh Moves
The tube-man concept originated with 60-foot-tall two-legged figures created for the opening ceremony of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. It didn’t take long for capitalism to nab the idea. Today, you can buy your very own six-foot version for just $120—as we did.

The behavior is explained by Bernoulli’s principle, a fluid-dynamics tenet derived from Newton’s second law of motion. It states that as the velocity of a fluid increases, its pressure decreases. Initially, the moving air, which behaves as an incompressible flow in the open-ended AirDancer, creates enough pressure to inflate the tube. As the tube stands more upright, the turbulent air inside flows more freely and its speed increases until the decreasing pressure can no longer support the mass of the nylon fabric. The collapsing material creates a kink in the tube, a constriction that causes the air speed to temporarily slow and the pressure to rise again. The elevated pressure drives the bend upward, sending a shimmy through the AirDancer and restarting the cycle.

Research

Used inside a building, a tube man cycles in an almost-repeatable pattern. Outdoors, its interactions with the wind give the inflatable its erratic flail. That is to say, an AirDancer is excited by a breeze to get you excited about that Breeze.

Thrilla vs. Gorilla

When it comes to selling cars, you can’t talk AirDancers without mentioning the inflatable gorilla on the neighboring lot. Which draws more shoppers? Our Traffic-Generating Factor (TGF) predicts the increase in traffic a dealer can expect by putting an inflatable on the lot.

a drawing of a face: Thrilla vs. Gorilla© Provided by Car and Driver Thrilla vs. Gorilla

A 20-foot-tall red tube man starts with a metaphorical leg up on a 20-foot blue gorilla due to red light’s longer wavelength (2.29 x 10^-6 feet versus 1.54 x 10^-6 feet), but it’s not even a competition once you factor in the AirDancer’s ability to pitch and roll about its base, effectively quadrupling its TGF.

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