Recall every time you’ve dropped your smartphone and wondered, “Was this the one? Did this fall finally break the screen?”
Now, think back to those really hot jeans you used to wear, right up until you tore a hole in an awkward spot. Still a shame those had to get tossed. You looked great.
Now imagine for a moment a world in which nothing breaks—or rather, nothing stays broken. Too good to be true? Not quite. Self-healing technology is becoming a reality, folks.
Here are a few of the really good ones:
A Fabric That Repairs Tears
There’s a hole in your favorite coat? You’re either going to have to toss it or if you’re feeling brave enough, risk stabbing your finger a few times with a needle and thread.
“Why,” you ask after the tenth accidental stabbing, “can’t this jacket fix itself?”
Though your jacket may be lost, a new fabric called Nano Cure Tech Fabric that comes from the brilliant minds at Imperial Motion promises to do just that. Using a combination of nylon ripstop fabric and a patented coating, Nano Cure Tech Fabric very literally heals itself in your hands. Just rub the damaged area together in your hand, and the heat from friction will activate that coating, closing up small holes right before your eyes.
Whether you like to go on long hikes in dense woods, ride — and occasionally fall off of — a skateboard, or work in an environment that eats the clothes right off your back, Imperial Motion has, and will have, you covered.
Now if they could just put out a children’s line.
A Plastic That Repairs Itself
Self-healing technology has promise to expand dramatically in the near future with the recent advent of self-healing plastics and polymers. The process behind these self-healing plastics is relatively simple — they rely on some combination of chemical reactions and application of heat to repair damage. It’s a process that’s somewhat similar to the way heat sealing works in plastic clamshell packages.
Plastic in its infinite variability can be applied virtually anywhere, including space. NASA has taken the forefront on self-healing plastics with a new material that can cover up an actual bullet hole in mere seconds. That rapid healing could prove vital in the extremes of space missions by preventing suit, ship and habitat ruptures almost as quickly as they can happen.
Ceramics That Seal Their Own Cracks
NASA isn’t done yet. Similar to their self-healing plastics, NASA is also developing a new form of self-healing ceramic. Instead of shattering like any other ceramic, this stuff is designed to oxidize at damage sites to seal any cracks that form from impacts or stress. Leave it to NASA to create pottery that rusts itself fixed. Seriously, though, this is a big one for the future of space exploration as the need for materials that are durable, highly heat resistant and very lightweight will continue to grow alongside the 21st Century’s rapidly developing civilian space race.
Show of hands, how many of you have waited until your cell phone screen completely stopped working before getting the cracked screen replaced? What if all you had to do was wait, and your screen would fix itself overnight? That’s right, folks! Self-healing smartphone screens are going to be a thing!
But what’s the big deal, since we already covered self-healing plastics? Simple. Smartphone screens are made of a special tempered glass capable of conducting the static electricity in your fingertips into sensors that can tell precisely where you swipe. Regular plastic, self-healing or otherwise, just can’t compete. With Motorola also filing patents on similar materials, the self-healing cell phone screen is almost certainly coming to us sooner rather than later.
Machinery That Predicts Failures Before They Happen
But if simple plastics and ceramics that piece themselves back together isn’t enough for you, get this. There are factories whose machinery is designed to not only self-diagnose and, in limited circumstances, self-repair, but to actually predict when a failure is likely to occur, and adjust for it. Preventative maintenance could transition from complete system checks that require full stops on production to simply waiting for the computer to indicate what part is likely next to give.
This one is truly exciting for the industrial world because it offers the potential for genuine, around-the-clock production without interruption. There could never be unforeseen delays in delivery of manufactured goods ever again, specifically because every possible delay will be foreseen and dealt with before it becomes a problem.
Everyone jokes about how plastic will continue to pollute the planet long after we’re all dust — or made of plastic — but what if plastic is still around because it keeps fixing itself? Could we create a modern Ozymandias whose work truly does stand the test of time?
Perhaps, or perhaps not. But in the meantime, our smartphones and favorite pairs of jeans are soon to be invincible, and that’s almost as good.