If you have ever watched Terminator 2 you will know how useful it would be to self-heal. In fact, you don’t need to be a cyborg made from liquid metal to do this, human being’s bodies self-heal all the time. Wouldn’t it be great if our cracked and scratched phones did it as well? Earlier in the year Samsung filed a patent for an “anti-fingerprinting composition that has a self-healing property” and a coating of that kind may eventually appear on a smartphone perhaps as early as this year.
No guarantee such products will ever see the light of day
Whilst a patent is no guarantee that a product will ultimately make it to market, this particular patent has rather unsurprisingly has captured the imagination of smartphone owners globally all of whom have long hoped for damage-resistant devices. So how is it possible for an object to self-heal and will we really see such phones on the market in the near future? There have been polymers discovered by accident that are able to self-heal when a small crack forms because of a substance called thiourea.
Still some way to go
Thiourea contains hydrogen atoms that are able to create new bonds with one another in a zigzag pattern when the damaged material is squeezed gently. This zigzag pattern avoids crystallization and also helps keep the material rigid. Lots of news organisations picked up the story and said the discovery is likely to be the future of smartphone screens. One of the report’s authors however says that the polymer is unlikely to be suitable because it is not strong enough to withstand the pressures of regular use outdoors.
Start slowly and build
Instead Tokyo University’s professor Takuzo Aida thinks the first application for the polymer should be on a device that is used indoors exclusively. A self-healing screen is probably going to be possible at some point in the future but it will be a few years before one is able to buy them. The internal circuity of devices could eventually become self-healing thanks to self-healing conductive composites that have already been developed and are being testing.
A reality one day
Electric circuits that can repair themselves have the potential to be huge however the people most likely to benefit from this innovation are those who need it for very specialised applications such as high-risk situations involving the military or first responders. There are some car paints that have self-healing properties and can fill in small scratches. Whilst there are many challenges when it comes to developing these technologies, a future where our phones, cars and buildings self-heal and are safer is certainly a tantalising one.