Detail of a smart phone with a cracked screen
Photograph by Getty Images
By David Meyer
August 17, 2017

A cracked cellphone screen is one of modern life’s common irritations, but that might change, as Motorola has filed a patent for a self-repairing phone display.

Motorola’s patent, filed in February 2016 but only just put online by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), describes a “method and device for detecting fascia damage and repairing the same.”

Motorola’s idea would see the screen made from a shape-memory polymer with “thermal elements”—either built into the screen or next to it—that could detect a scratch, crack or unwanted bend and then apply heat to it “to reverse at least some of the deformation.”

This self-healing activity might take place during low-power or sleep modes, or only when the device is plugged in for charging. The patent application mentions both smartphones and tablet computers, as well as “personal digital assistants,” for what that’s worth.

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Shape-memory polymers (SMPs) can, as the name suggests, shift between shapes based on external stimuli such as heat, light or electricity. The field is relatively new, but the materials are starting to find their way into shape-shifting sutures and other medical applications, and engineers are working on using SMPs for creating artificial robotic muscles.

As for when phone screens might be made from such materials, it would be best not to hold your breath. This is still just a patent application, and the smartphone world is still coming to terms with the magic of curved glass screens.

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