Self-healing materials have the potential to change our consumer culture in a significant way.
Many people have experienced the dread of dropping a smartphone only to pick it up and discover a scratched screen.
It is no surprise, then, that clumsy smartphone users everywhere rejoiced when Apple’s patent for self-healing iPhone displays was unveiled in February.
However, Apple is not the only company to develop self-healing technology. Natoco, a paint manufacturer from Japan, has developed a self-healing coating made from a polymer alloy that can be applied to different types of objects.
Natoco describes its coating through two different features. One is a “curling effect” that smoothes the surface of the object so that it is slippery, preventing scratches in the first place.
The second is a “trampoline effect”, a restorative feature that softens the impact on the dropped object and bounces back its energy, effectively “healing” the object.
The coating can be used for smartphones and other electronics that are easily scratched, but its applications are not limited to screens. Natoco foresees using it on vehicles, and it could also prove useful to prevent home appliances and kitchenware from being scratched.
Today, obsolescence is commonplace, and people discard objects that are still perfectly functional to replace them with the shiniest and newest models.
Smartphones are one of the most prominent examples of this throwaway mindset. If a phone gets a small scratch, it is often seen as unusable though it can still perform.
The quick cycle of buying and discarding is harmful for a number of reasons, particularly because it places no value on the resources that are used in the manufacturing of these items and ignores the resulting environmental impact.
Perhaps self-healing technology can transform our current attitude towards early obsolescence. Though not a perfect solution, people might be less likely to buy new electronics and appliances at such a speedy rate if coatings such as Natoco’s can maintain their sleek appearances by preventing and healing unsightly scratches.
By using products to their full capacity of functionality, we could reduce waste and save money.
As this technology continues to develop, we will find other applications for it as well. Self-healing coatings could strengthen a wide variety of structures and objects, from aircrafts to water pipes, increasing their safety as well as their aesthetic.
Maybe one day our homes could even withstand extreme weather damage with the help of these materials.
Second body image courtesy of Matthijs Rouw.