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The Future of Materials

Posted on August 19th, 2016 by in New Materials & Applications


Recently Google was issued a patent for an adhesive applied to the hood of a car (U.S. Patent No. 9,340,178, 2016).  The adhesive’s purpose is to catch a person who has been struck by a car, keeping them from bouncing off the hood and getting run over. This patent is interesting because it focuses on how a material can enhance safety, and because it is the embodiment of a prediction from many years ago.

I love to watch science fiction movies that paint a picture of what the future will look like. Many of them depict flying cars, wild fashions, and wonderful conveniences, but very few of them think about the role new materials and chemicals will take. One movie that does consider the role of materials and chemicals is Demolition Man, which debuted in 1993.

Parts of the movie focus on self-driving cars, and the main character John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone) struggles with them.  During one scene, there is a high-speed chase and John Spartan crashes the self-driving car. You can watch it here (there is mild profanity). The car deploys its safety system of foam which quickly encases John Spartan and hardens in the same milliseconds a modern-day airbag deploys. Think of a really fast version of today’s polyurethane high expansion foam insulation.  John’s body is cushioned during the crash by the foam, after which he breaks out of the foam before suffocating.

The movie went as far as naming the substance Secure-Foam, indicating it was a trademarked material.  Intellectual property rights for a futuristic material are usually too deep for most movies to go, and yet it was a detail that Demolition Man included.  It’s this deep thought of how a future safety system could work, and how a future chemical would enable such a system.  The same type of critical thinking is needed to develop and apply new materials for new problems.

Currently, Google has created a real-world safety system for self-driving cars.  Google’s “Adhesive vehicle front end for mitigation of secondary pedestrian impact”, is a safety system designed to reduce injuries and fatalities associated with self-driving cars. Though Demolition Man was not able to predict pedestrian fly-tape, it was able to think through the new challenges self-driving cars would create, and that a new material would be to help solve these new problems. Google’s sticky hoods are a modern day Secure-Foam. It’s a material designed to increase safety as the technology of self-driving cars moves into the mainstream.

As time progresses, new technology brings about new problems. Though the movie Demolition Man didn’t predict a safety adhesive, it did show that new materials will be needed to improve safety of self-driving cars. Google thinks that a properly placed adhesive will help.  As the future becomes reality, and new innovations bring new challenges, new chemicals and materials will be needed.  It will be exciting to see how new materials and chemicals can provide the solutions for tomorrow’s problems.  These new solutions are closer than we might think. Only 23 years ago, movies were predicting technologies being developed today!

Khaykin, Alex., Larner; Daniel Lynn. (2016). U.S. Patent No. 9,340,178. Washington, DC: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.


All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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