Special to Nvate | 532 words
Since its development in the mid-1800s, rubber has changed the way the world works; from vehicles to medical equipment to shoes, rubber extends our physical world and, when used in biomedical devices, even plays a role in saving lives.
Those are the innovations of rubber past; now we look toward the future and the advancements of this century will be just as groundbreaking as its predecessors. Below are just a few examples of what’s to come.
Interactive Rubber and 3-D Printing
In just the last five years, 3-D printing has evolved from a large, expensive and unattainable (for most) invention into a surprisingly affordable technology that is available to the general public. Over that time, printing materials have changed as well, now including metal alloys and semi-flexible rubbers. One innovative use of the new technology adds sensory elements to 3-D printed rubber so the printed object has interactive properties. The rubber device collects, sends and displays information and also has a lighting mechanism.
Inventor Gerald Strickland began noticing how many shoes the Buffalo’s West Side Rowing Club were discarding and saw an opportunity to apply a new rubber technology that would extend the life of the shoes. With the help of manufacturer Apple Rubber, Strickland built a shoe harness prototype that athletic rowers could use to clip into the boat comfortably while maintaining mobility. The rubber shoe clip is flexible but also prevents the rower’s foot from slipping and losing grip. The system (made with liquid silicone rubber for its hypoallergenic properties) is currently in beta testing.
Viscoelastic rubber has found a place in carbon nanotube technology. Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are microfibers from a network of carbon atoms, with diameters ranging from one to 50 nanometers. Although lightweight, CNTs are 200 times the strength of steel and five times the elasticity. The new nanotubes are made from silicon rubber instead of a carbon base to maintain the strength of CNTs, but can stand extreme temperatures approaching absolute zero to 1000 degrees Celsius, making them ideal for deep space technologies and solar probes.
Farming and New Rubber
In the agricultural industry, rubber plays a special role in both the technology and the fiscal culture of farming. Agriculture has traditionally been a metal, wood and sweat endeavor but new robotics technology is going to change that.
Due to the damaging effects of the elements, metal based automation has not been adopted; that means, expensive repairs and maintenance make this robot technology cost prohibitive for most farmers. The solution? Using hard rubbers to build the robots, as they are lighter in weight, move easily over soil and the rubber does not corrode when exposed to the environment.
Water-Resistant Natural Rubber
The kind of rubber used to build a tire has been processed, using methodology that is harmful to the environment. Natural rubber is ecologically preferred but, traditionally, does not have the durability of processed rubber. But, of course, this might change with a new process that oxidizes the rubber under a liquid nitrogen atmosphere. The method makes natural rubber more hydrophobic, as it is natural rubber’s tendency to absorb water and become so soft that it becomes impractical for most uses.
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