(Leo King) We all know how easy it is to end up with a cracked phone screen, but thanks to new technology your next cellphone is likely to self repair .
Engineers have revealed a major breakthrough, with a material that can easily heal itself and that could be applied to phone manufacturing processes within just a few years (for particularly regular upgraders, self repair might be on your next phone but one).
How The Self Repair Works
The self repair is the result of a catalyzed chemical process, based on an advanced healing ‘agent’ that resembles how human blood hardens into a scab when the body is cut.
The healing agent, made of carbon-based chemicals, is successfully working and expected to be applied to at least part of the mobile phone industry within five years.
The chemicals are contained in millions of microspheres – when they crack, a liquid is released that hardens quickly and almost invisibly.
The process was originally developed for aviation, where it is expected to enable airplane wings to self heal in flight. Other sectors have expressed a strong interest in its potential: among these, in the beauty industry, L’Oréal is considering self healing nail varnish.
Transforming Every Device
Duncan Wass, a professor of catalysis at England’s University of Bristol who led the technology’s development, tells me that although the chemicals were developed for aviation, he could “certainly envisage how similar technology could be applied” to cellphones and other items.
While the Bristol researchers have focused on aviation, a hungry consumer tech industry is expected to take it on. In order to achieve success, manufacturers would need to add the formula to existing materials, potentially requiring only a small manufacturing change. But Professor Wass adds: “The devil is in the detail and they would need to check that it doesn’t adversely effect other properties.”
Adoption speed will of course be strongly affected by the tech industry’s own efforts, as well as the price points it sets.
For a self healing screen to succeed, it would “have to be positioned at very nearly the price of current displays”, according to Todd Thibodeaux, president of IT industry association CompTIA. “It would take adoption by Apple to drive it mainstream, similar to the push they are now providing for mobile payments in the US.”
Thibodeaux believes that at the current time self healing coatings for appliances and car surfaces would be a “far bigger market”. Other markets could open, however, as prices are driven down.
Race cars have long used carbon fiber composites. In this photo, Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg of Germany steers his car during the Formula One Grand Prix, at the Monaco racetrack, in Monaco, Sunday, May 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)
“Automotive is potentially important,” Professor Wass explains. “Carbon fiber composites have been widely used in Formula One and performance cars for many years, but now their use is getting more mainstream.”
In aviation, which is the focus of the Bristol project, the opportunity is enormous: wings that develop minute cracks would instantly begin to self repair in flight, increasing safety and cutting maintenance times.
Wind turbines, especially offshore, could also benefit: the advantages of self healing materials far out to sea is clear.
“Basically, any industry which uses carbon fibre composites could benefit,” Professor Wass notes. “At the consumer end of the market that could be sports equipment, bike frames, and so on.”
The mobile tech we use, and the ways we travel, may never be the same again.