On some Design News message boards, we've discussed how great it would be if consumer electronics like smartphones and tablets were rougher and tougher. What if you could actually drop one into the sink by accident, or into your plate of spaghetti sauce, and no harm would be done?
A nanoscale coating that's now being applied to some smartphones will let you do that (though we don't recommend it). Aridion, developed by P2i, is used by Motorola on its RAZR and XOOM phones, and by Alcatel on its One Touch phones. About 30nm thick, or 1,000 times as thin as a human hair, the hydrophobic polymer coating is applied to completed products at the end of the manufacturing process. It coats exterior surfaces, ports, and even interior components, protecting them against liquids and stains, according to a P2i video, which you can watch below.
The coating, based on perfluorinated carbon compounds, is applied via a plasma-enhanced vapor deposition process that lays it down on all of the device's internal and external surfaces. The process takes place under low pressure in a vacuum chamber at room temperature.
The vaporized polymer bonds at the molecular level to materials, reducing corrosion and water damage. The polymer layer reduces surface energy, so instead of being attracted and spreading out on the device's surface, water and other liquids bead up and roll off.
UK-based P2i has developed a waterproof nano-coating that protects smartphones such as the Alcatel One Touch, and Motorola's RAZR and XOOM. We think the company should develop the technology for consumers who want to apply it to the devices they already own. (Source: P2i)
According to P2i, Aridion does not affect conductivity or the functioning of components, and is so thin that it doesn't change the product's look and feel. Since the coating becomes an inseparable part of the material it bonds to, it is as durable as the materials it protects. No solvents are used in the application process, which consumes only tiny amounts of the protective monomer.
The first commercial application for electronics was coating hearing aids. The company says the coating can be applied to a wide variety of materials, including fabrics, polymers, metals, ceramics, glass, leather, and paper, as well as objects made of multiple materials, such as smartphones and tablets.
Another version of the coating, ion-mask, is used on shoes and clothing. The technology was originally developed during UK defense research projects. In that research, the aim was to protect soldiers' clothing from chemical weapons.
The videos on the company's website showing liquid rolling off are pretty impressive. I think P2i should try to figure out how to apply this coating to existing electronic devices, presumably while they're still new. Places like Kinkos could buy one of the chambers and offer a retrofitting service for electronics that haven't already been protected.
I'm inclined to think that it's highly likely from what I've read, plus for two additional reasons: one is concerned communications engineers talking off record to me about this problem back in the very early days of cell phone design (mid- and late 1990s). The second is the fact that the CTIA managed to get federal legislation passed to make it illegal to complain about/sue cell phone companies based on health reasons.
There's a lot of evidence of links between cell phone and other wireless radiation and cancer. There are also lots of studies that conclude the opposite. The subject is highly politicized, and there are way too many studies with radically different research designs to make them easy to compare, or to make this a quick, easy-to-grasp subject. The bottom line is we don't know but there's a possibility, and one that could affect millions of people.
Chuck, that's my understanding of the definitions, also. That's why I queried the use of the term "immersion." How complete the "immersion" is, and how long it takes place, are key. I agree, this coating appears to make the item water resistant.
I had to go to the Internet (uh-oh) to find out the difference between waterproof and water-resistant. The prevailing logic seems to be that a waterproof product prevents water from coming in at all, even when submerged (think of a diving watch). Water resistant (here's wher the definition seems to get fuzzy) describes the ability to repel water, up to a point. Given those descriptions, I would assume this material makes the phone water-resistant.
Jenn, that would be retrofitting, which we were discussing earlier in the comments. So far, we haven't seen any plans for that, but it sure sounds like a great idea. OTOH, as someone pointed out, those refrigerator-sized machines may be on the pricey side for an operation like Kinko's. And that's an entirely different business model from selling the coating to a company like Motorola. I was expressing more of a wish than a prediction.
NIST's new five-year strategic plan for its Material Measurement Laboratory lists additive manufacturing materials development as one of the main areas it will support by developing measurements, data, techniques, and models.
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