It was bound to happen sometime—consumer electronics and other products in the tech field all undergo some wear and tear. But there’s some hope. According to an article in the Independent, there is technology that is already available that “heals” the wear and tear that everything undergoes, which can extend the lifespan of the product and make it usable for many years.
While it is currently being used for industrial and commercial purposes, such as on wind turbines and airplane wings, it would also benefit the consumer market, where it can repair the damage done to consumer tech, automobiles, and more. Professor Duncan Wass at the University of Bristol, who is heading the “self-healing” material project, told the Independent that the material could hit the consumer market soon. “We took inspiration from the human body,” Professor Wass said. “We’ve not evolved to withstand any damage—if we were like that we’d have a skin as thick as a rhinoceros—but if we do get damaged, we bleed, and it scabs and heals. We just put that same sort of function into a synthetic material: let’s have something that can heal itself.”
The project was displayed at the Summer Science Exhibition 2015. According to the project description on the Royal Society’s website, “Polymers are materials made of many repeating units connected together, and the best-known examples of polymers are plastics. When man-made polymers suffer excess mechanical or thermal stress, they become irreversibly damaged. Our research designs and develops self-repairing polymers by incorporating atoms and molecules that can re-bind after damage.” They also went to describe the science behind the polymers and how they can be designed to rearrange themselves in the event of damage. “Our exhibit shows how materials, called polymers, can be designed to contain complementary molecular surfaces that will reconnect to repair damage. Self-healing polymers could vastly improve the durability and safety of critical components in cars and aircraft,” they continued.
One application of this technology could be beneficial to consumer tech such as cell phones and other mobile devices. Many products in consumer tech are increasing functionality while becoming cheaper—but fall behind in the durability aspect. If you’re a durability fan, you might need to pay extra or sacrifice some functionality. For example, Phone Arena named off a list of the most durable smartphones in 2015. Some phone manufacturers even include a “rugged” version of their devices, albeit with a few sacrifices, and some are not even available in the United States. Durability does come at a price—the cheapest phone on the list is $133.76, the Plum Gator Plus. None of the other devices on the list are under $300.
Aside from Samsung, the “durable” smartphones don’t have brand recognition either, which is where other smartphone producers can step in and offer their own “self-healing” solution on smartphones. Although it might be expensive at first, the self-healing technology could extend the life of a smartphone, allowing manufacturers to improve both the functionality and durability of their phones. The results of one stress test showed that major phone manufacturers weren’t as concerned with phone durability as before—the iPhone 5 could withstand 150 pounds of force before the case broke, whereas the iPhone 6 and 6+ cases broke at only 100 and 110 pounds, respectively.
The “self-healing” tech can also be applied in the medical field, such as prosthetic limbs and medical implants that can heal themselves while inside or attached to the body. Prosthetic limbs can run up to $50,000 and could have a shelf life of only three to five years. “They’re probably in line with a cost of a car. It can be a pricey thing to work with,” said Glenn Garrison, director of prosthetics and orthotics at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. The “self-healing” tech applied to these products could extend their lifespan and save patients time and money.
It is also mentioned that automobiles can benefit from the tech. This could also have an effect on insurance premiums and auto repairs. If the tech is applied to all parts of an automobile, there could be massive savings for the consumer, since auto expenses often amount to one of the biggest expenses in a consumer’s budget. Motorcycle helmets could also benefit from the “self-healing” tech, allowing motorcycle drivers to extend their lifespans as well.
While major consumer tech manufacturers are pushing the latest products to market, it should also be noted that there should be a different solution rather than sending it back to the manufacturer for repairs, which could take weeks. Some people decline to purchase a warranty or protection plan and repairs could become more costly as a result. With “self-healing” tech on the way to the consumer market, people can also save money on repairing their products in various ways.