Self-repairing goods

Wired magazine has an interesting series of optimistic ‘future design’ predictions, and from a design/futurist agency rather than shallow fly-by journalists. Much of the list is typical Wired techno-blather, but I love the idea of 4d printing that repairs itself…

“[printed] physical objects [designed to] adapt to a user over time. For instance, a 4D-printed chair could become more comfortable over time, or become stronger at stress points, instead of breaking. What if? This is the aim of 4D printing, a field popularized by MIT’s Skylar Tibbits and his self-assembly lab.”

The unbreakable this or that has been around for a while now. Such things do exist. For instance, I’m still using metal/enamel plates from China, that my family acquired in the 1970s from some market stall or other in Birmingham, England. Probably the plates were some kind of cunning socialist plot to destroy the British ceramics industry. But they have barely a scratch on them, despite 40 years of daily use. And just down the road from me a company called Steelite does a roaring trade in unbreakable ceramic tableware. Will we be able to make other items, via 3d printing, just as durable in the future?

On the other hand, it’s often the cheapest and lowliest component that causes a device to fail. The power supply unit on a PC, for instance, or a on/off button on a monitor. The tiny wires in headphones or the wires that run through the hinges in a laptop. It may be quite a while before we can step from self-healing stress fractures in large plastic mouldings, to self-repairing gadgets and PCs.

There’s also the question of what happens to such plastics if they do get discarded and find their way into the oceans. Even the toughest plastic-munching microbes may have a hard time digesting such super-plastic. That said, I’d certainly welcome an office chair that lasts a lifetime and not just a few years.