The most common cause of failure in consumer electronics is traces and solder points being broken by boards expanding and contracting, the most famous of which would be Xbox 360 Red Ring of Death. But what if they could fix themselves? A team at the University of Illinois seems to have found a solution.
While initial applications are pointed toward large expensive devices like airplanes and spacecraft, where repairs are very difficult mid-operation, conceivably it could make its way into consumer electronics in the future. The process works by installing microcapsules of liquid metal along the circuit. When a break happens, the metal flows from the capsules and seals the gap, restoring the connection.
“In general there’s not much avenue for manual repair,” Sottos said. “Sometimes you just can’t get to the inside. In a multilayer integrated circuit, there’s no opening it up. Normally you just replace the whole chip. It’s true for a battery too. You can’t pull a battery apart and try to find the source of the failure.”
Most consumer devices are meant to be replaced with some frequency, adding to electronic waste issues, but in many important applications – such as instruments or vehicles for space or military functions – electrical failures cannot be replaced or repaired
The process of healing is so fast — 100 microseconds — that you actually need special equipment to even detect a failure has taken place. While the ubiquity of this feature is so far off that the Geek Squad isn’t likely shaking in it’s boots, there’s a lot of networking professionals that can’t wait to stop crawling around in the ceiling, and I for one am dying for headphones whose wires won’t constantly break. A particular focus of the team for the future will be batteries, where repair is typically impossible, to improve safety, reliability, and longevity. Maybe this little miracle could bring an end to the era of exploding cell phones?