Visions Of The Future, Now: Airplanes That Fix Themselves While In The Air
4 Aug 2015

A team of scientists researching at Bristol University in the United Kingdom have discovered a new technology that for many of us sounds like something that could only be realistically done in Star Trek—or in the very least, a couple of centuries into the future.

However, that future has been dialed back to a much earlier date with the discovery of a carbon fiber reinforced composite material that can replicate the behavior of human skin when damaged. That’s to say, much as if you cut yourself, your skin will heal over a period of time.

“If you cut your finger, eventually it will heal,” said Professor Duncan Wass, the lead researcher of the team. “We thought, if we can apply that idea to man-made structures, we have the mechanisms to repair that damage.”

That’s exactly what this new technology does, by using what are described as “micro-spheres”, filled with a patented healing agent that is injected into the composite. These micro-spheres are miniscule—a dozen or so would fill the width of a single strand of human hair—and liquid. When the composite material is damaged, the spheres crack and release their liquid, which then solidifies into glue that repairs cracks.

While this technology is clearly exciting, and offers a lot of potential for micro-repairs “on the go”, the technology won’t be able to fix major structural issues: teams of engineers will still be required to check all airplanes prior to take off for fitness to fly.

The research, still in its early stages, is currently looking into how to not just improve the looks of a surface—but also ensure that the strength of the materials is retained—or improved upon. Additional areas of research include ensuring that the materials work in a wide range of environments, from the chill of flying a high altitude to sitting on a baking hot runway.

The research promises to go in many interesting developments, and travelers will be relieved to hear that aviation safety—already incredibly high—is only likely to get safer with the introduction of this new technology to aircraft fleets worldwide.

More information about the research of Professor Wass and his team can be found in this CNN report, which also looks into how this exciting new technology can be implemented in a variety of other industries and consumer items. Read more.

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