A phone screen that repairs itself when broken? Yes, please!

By Tanish Pradhan

A graduate school student from the University of Tokyo, Yu Yanagisawa, recently discovered a material that could drastically change the way people handle their smartphones. The polymer glass was chanced upon while he was developing new types of adhesives. It possesses self-healing properties and may be revolutionary if used in manufacturing modern day phone screens. A phone screen that could fix itself would certainly help avoid the hassle of screen replacement that many people are all too familiar with.

Perfect for screen-glasses

The glass, made from a light polymer known as ‘polyether-thioureas’ can heal cracks and breaks when pressed together lightly for a few minutes. While self-healing materials have been around for a while and have already been implemented in some smartphones, this new material has a whole host of new attractive properties to boast of. The LG G Flex 2 came with a back panel which would rid itself of minor scratches and dents over some time. Even Motorola recently filed a patent for a screen which would fix cracks upon the application of heat.

Just last year, researchers from the University of California developed a material that could stretch to 50 times its original size and fix breaks within 24 hours. This material, however, is very different from those that came before it. It was previously extremely hard to develop a material that was mechanically robust and could self-heal. However, polyether-thioureas is rigid like glass and can heal itself with ease. It does not require much time to do it and can even heal at room temperature, a previously unseen property. This makes it perfect for application as screen glass.

The issue of screen breakage

In 2015, in its ShatterShield campaign, Motorola conducted a survey on screen breakages. They found that not only had 50 percent of people globally experienced a broken screen at least once, but 21 percent of people were using cracked screens then. Of these numbers, the highest demographic were Indians. It highlighted that 65 percent of Indians had had their phone screens broken at least once.

The problem here is that screens are extremely prone to breakage due to a multitude of reasons. Smartphones have become the most used possessions of the majority of individuals across the globe and hence have become prone to rough handling. People drop them, sit on them, and at times even throw them in frustration. This leads to numerous cracks in the display. Getting the screens fixed is a real hassle due to the costs and most phone warranties do not even cover screen damage. Many users either throw their phones away, feeding the environmental crisis or just continue to use their defective handsets, straining their eyes and cutting their fingers in the process. The breakage issue is a really pressing one which this material may do away with for good.

A look into the future

Polyether-thioureas is what the future might look like for appliances. People give ample consideration to durability while selecting gadgets today. Such polymers are what may be used to make technology that is not only advanced in performance but can also be repaired easily by a normal user sitting at home. It even allows designers new avenues to explore personalisation and modification. Imagine a phone where one could purchase new hardware and simply heal it onto its body. It could be sort of like the software updates that people install today. They might even make wearable tech easier to manufacture. With self-healing materials on the rise, the possibilities are endless.

Featured Image Source: rafael-castillo on VisualHunt.com / CC BY