In the future, airplanes will fix themselves mid-flight.
At least, that's according to a CNN article about a Bristol University team that developed the technology to repair cracks on airplane hardware in a fashion similar to the healing of human skin.
Their research focuses on carbon fiber reinforced composite materials. This material is becoming increasingly popular in the assembly of modern aircraft. It uses —micro-spheres, " or incredibly small, hollow containers that are filled with a healing agent and planted into the composite material.
When something collides with the special material, causing a crack, the micro-spheres break and release the contained healing agent. It reacts with a catalyst material and hardens in a way that essentially glues the crack together.
Duncan Wass, one of the head researchers on the project, told CNN, —Our approach here is to take the inspiration from the human body in that if we get damaged, we have mechanisms to repair the damage. If you cut your finger, eventually it will heal, so we thought, can we apply that sort of idea to these man-made structures? So that's what we've done. "
This technology, in its current state, is only capable of fixing small cracks and abrasions — not structural damage. In addition, the team said that one of their biggest challenges is making sure that the healing material produces a strong and sturdy fix across a wide range of temperatures.
Wass doesn't think we'll be boarding self-healing planes any time soon. —We had the concept early on but the devil is in the detail in getting it to work, " he said. —For aerospace applications where safety is absolutely critical, we're probably a long way off. "
Regardless, Wass thinks that other applications can see practical use from this new technology before aircraft. —Many more consumer items — sports equipment, bicycle frames, you can imagine in much nearer terms, maybe two years before we can start to see these things happening, " he says.