- Embedded – One where the healing agents are embedded in the material
- Vascular Network – One where a vascular network, which is kind of like your body’s veins brings healing agents to the site of damage
- Stimulus – One where the material is intrinsically capable of healing itself when exposed to certain stimuli.
Some use ionic conduction, some use covalent bonding and conductive silver nanoparticles and then comes the way Chines team do which takes inspiration from the human body. Say your phone screen cracks, with something like this new technology the softer cushy bottom layer reacts to the trauma and provides material to fill in the broken bits of the top layer, while the hardness of the top layer provides a protective coating to allow the healing to take place. The harder top layer is also apparently antimicrobial meaning it could have future implications for biomedical devices.
Other teams around the world have been exploring similar technologies. In last few years we have seen the beginning of soft, self-healing robots that can perform delicate tasks and fit into small spaces and flexible self-healing electronic skin that could attach to a person’s body and monitor their health as well as a whole host of other potential applications, like human-robot interaction and prosthetic limb enhancement. These most recent developments are also recyclable which means that while they are promising new technology, they don’t promise to create a lot of excess wast in the process.
In 2016, one particularly exciting breakthrough came when a team published research demonstrating a material that was conductive, stretchy and self-healing providing major implications for extending the life of lithium-ion batteries. The big takeaway from this topic is not just a science fiction like tech advancement, but also major environmental implications. Imagine never having a broken electronic that you had to replace because the one you have is Self-healing!
The top layer of this new coating from the Chinese researchers is so had and durable that the team hopes that their self-healing technology will last longer and produce less waste than options that may wear out faster after fewer injuries. But that’s getting little ahead of ourselves. For now, the Chinese engineering team is trying to improve their production process to make it more efficient and less expensive, so that they can hopefully bring a commercial prototype to market in the next few years. They say it would likely be applicable in areas like consumer electronics and maybe even construction. Self-healing building would be pretty sweet.
We may still be a couple of years away from seeing self-healing technologies in stores or in the doctor’s office and when they do come around experts say consumers are gone have to pay a premium, cause that’s going to be expensive. But it’s exciting to see researchers taking the longevity of their technology and the environmental impact of any potential products into account.