A team of scientists at the University of Bristol has developed technology that could put mechanics out of their work: with help of some materials, micro-electronic devices, micro-sensing, and wireless technology, tomorrow’s vehicles will repair themselves.
6/30/15 5:00 am chumakdenis 1
Could you only imagine how cool would it be to have a vehicle that would be able to fix itself?
Just imagine: no need to go to automobile repair shop in case you bumped into somebody or inadvertently scratched your beauty somewhere on the road; marvelous, but sounds more like a dream, isn’t it?
Well, in spite of the fact how unreal in may sound, actually, it is one of the dreams that researchers at the University of Bristol managed to bring into life.
They have developed tiny microspheres containing a liquid carbon-based "healing agent", which are interspersed in the material itself.
The spheres burst when damaged, releasing the liquid, which hardens.
This hardening occurs when the liquid comes into contact with a catalyst substance, also present in the material.
The research team drew inspiration for that from the way the human body heals from a cut with blood that hardens into a scab.
Does this material after so-called healing as strong as it was before?
Actually, it is. Laboratory tests have established that the material is just as strong after it has “healed”; furthermore, it can be used in aviation: aircraft wings made of such material can repair themselves “literally on the fly” if a bird strike takes place in mid-flight.
The technology could also make airline safety checks far cheaper as a dye could be added to the healing agent causing any damage to an aircraft to stand out like a bruise. This would allow engineers to identify damaged areas quickly and ensure that they do not miss anything as they examine the plane.
Professor Wass: “A bruise was a good analogy - but accepted that the dye would need to be tweaked to cater for nervous fliers. We’d probably do it with something which is invisible to the naked eye that you’d need to put an ultraviolet light on, because you don’t want an aeroplane wing with a big red splodge on it showing that it’s been damaged.”
Do any factors influence on this material?
Of course, they are. In a way of example, the material depends a lot on the outside temperature and can take anywhere between a couple of hours and a day to recover.
“If you’re on a runway in Dubai it would probably heal in a couple of hours, but if you were on a runway in Reykjavik in winter it would probably be more like 24 hours” - Professor Wass said.
Potential of material
The Bristol team’s innovations could be applied to all kinds of carbon fibre composite materials meaning that bicycles, wind turbines, clothing, cosmetics could be just around the corner.
The cosmetics firm L’Oréal has contacted the team to register its interest in self-healing nail varnish. This would require different technology, but Professor Wass said the general principle would remain the same.
“We’re definitely getting to the stage where in the next five or 10 years we’re going to see things like mobile phone screens that can heal themselves if they crack” - he said.
Does this technology ready to bring it into production?
It’s an interesting question to answer on.
On one hand, research team managed to create self-healing aeroplane wings and results really impressing – in some cases they were getting 100% recovery.
On the other hand, everything is not as simple as that.
As of now, material can only fix some tiny cracks - not a 1m-wide (3ft) hole – good, but, in most cases, simply not enough.
Additionally, there is plenty of safety tests that team should over-engineer, so I do think that it’s too early to talk about the production – it isn’t coming next week.
Nonetheless, after a year or two we’ll more likely see vehicles with such materials in use.
And you know what?
I’m really happy that researchers able to impress such geeky people as we are and bring really vital innovations.
Let’s wish research team at the University of Bristol good luck and eagerly wait for more news from them.