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.
@NadineJ: Anything associated with an increased cancer risk should be taken seriously, but I think that the evidence of a link between cell phone use and cancer is very weak. Non-ionizing radiation doesn't cause DNA damage, as far as we know.
On the other hand, there is more credible evidence of a possible link between perfluorinated compounds and cancer. So applying a perfluorinated coating to your cell phone could concievably increase, rather than decrease, your cancer risk.
Ann-I completely agree with your comment in the article. If they can figure out how to apply this in the post-consumer market, it would be great. I'd even bring my ipod.
Any "anti-cancer" protection would increase interest too. I just listened to a very disturbing interview about the rise in breast cancer in teen girls and 20-something women who stash their phones in their bras.
For now, being able to make a call in the rain without fear is enough for me.
@williamlweaver: Somehow, I doubt that the real-life equipment is exactly as it is portrayed in the video. For one thing, the "on" button in the video looks too much like an e-stop switch... definitely a safety concern!
But the equipment is anything like this, then setting up a kiosk in a mall to apply this stuff would be a great investment. (Especially if you could manage to locate your kiosk directly outside of Best Buy).
william, that's much how I saw it: the deposition device does appear to be refrigerator-sized. However, I don 't think the process is likely to be a DIY-friendly one, which is why I was thinking of a Kinko's-type franchise, like your technical assisted model.
Yes, I have always wondered why computers and devices could be so sophisticated electronically but not be tougher when it comes to their external materials. I always thought if you pay such good money for these devices they should be water proof! Ask me what happens when I spilled a bit of water on my MacBook Pro a couple of years ago and wrangled a $750 fix (new logicboard, trackpad, harddrive and keyboard...new Mac, practically!) out of my AppleCare plan. I still wouldn't exactly go surfing with my mobile phone shoved into my wetsuit, but it would be nice if a bit of liquid on the device didn't kill it or damage it. Interesting story, Ann.
Excellent Application, Ann! If the deposition device is as it appears in the video, about the size of a refrigerator, I can see a huge aftermarket for DIY or even technician-assisted "retrofitting" for all of your consumer electronics. I guess eventually everybody's stuff would be protected, but it would be a great short-term service! I wonder where you go to get a franchise... (thinking of Robin Williams sitting in a Photobooth...)
Daryl, my first draft was titled "Drop Your Phone in the Toilet", but I figured it might not get past the censors--just kidding. So, are you going to tell us more about your RDT device and the process you use?
I have had multiple experiences with my children putting their cellphones through the toilet plunge. I have developed a RDT (reclamation of device from toilet) process that is 100 effective much to the happiness of my offspring so they didn't lose their contact list.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory has developed a surface preparation method to improve joining carbon composites with aluminum, with potentially far-reaching ramifications for high-volume industrial applications.
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