Although The Internet of Things is hardly mature, we’re already used to hearing how people can control their lights, thermostats, and just about anything you can imagine from their cell phones. Software, sensors and network connections are coming together to foster a future where the things we carry most often (cell phones, computers and tablets) are starting to control or help fulfill an increasing number of our everyday needs.
All of this is amazing, but in some ways not nearly as incredible as some of the technological innovations we’re starting to see on the materials side. More often than not, we look right past the surfaces that cover our devices. We focus on computer chips and processing speed, but some of the most interesting innovations in our cell phones and televisions are happening just on the surface.
This year at CES Corning, the creators of the famous Gorilla Glass, unveiled glass designed to kill 99.9% of the bacteria it comes into contact with. Called ‘Antimicrobial Gorilla Glass 3,’ this technology could transform one of the dirtiest items we own into the equivalent of the freshly washed dishes we eat off of.
Along similar lines, LG announced a curved glass phone with a self-healing back cover. If the phone is scuffed, dropped, or otherwise scratched, the scuffs will minimize (or in some cases disappear) in minutes. (See video below and if you’re like me, pick that jaw up off the ground.)
These technologies sound like the result of a Blockbuster hit where researchers risk their lives in pursuit of a plant or almost extinct animal that fulfills some miracle. In actuality, this is simply where science stands today.
If this sounds like insanity, allow me to take it a step further. It seems that almost as soon as the story of 3D printing (an additive process that enables individuals to create three dimensional objects in their homes with a printing device) hit the masses, the concept of 4D printing emerged.
The idea is that in the future anyone will be able to create objects that transform or restructure themselves over time. Applicable examples might include building materials that tighten or loosen in response to drastic weather conditions, chairs that adjust based on the sitter, or a water pipe that contracts, expands, or forces water to move through it at low temperatures so the pipes don’t crack or freeze.
Technology’s intent has always been to make tasks easier. We are on the brink of reinventing the building blocks. When we can mutate materials we’ll have changed the entire game. Today we’re talking about morphing materials like metal. This could quickly lead to a future where homes no longer require maintenance. What would we have time to do then?
Better yet, what if we could combine the learnings of our physical objects with medicine? Could you invent a future where the first sign of a cold releases something that automatically repairs your body before you even get sick?
In the next generation we’ll see nanotechnology give birth to a phenomenon where physical objects transform for us. Don’t worry about being a klutz, LG says about your phone. Don’t worry about turning off the water so your pipes don’t burst, 4D printing tells us. Welcome to the future. This is where materials, hardware, and the rest of the buildings blocks of our life start to morph automatically in order to cater to our ever adjusting needs.