Monday, December 31, 2007

Ion-Mask waterproofing technology

Mobile phone you can use in the shower

Soon there really will be no escape from mobile phones. They can be used on the world's highest mountains, on planes and even underground, but phone manufacturers now want customers to use their products underwater.

Electronics companies plan to use military technology, developed to protect soldiers from chemical attack, to make mobile telephones and other equipment waterproof.

Phones treated with the coating will be protected from moisture, rain and accidental immersion, according to the experts behind the technology. Tests have shown that treated phones can be used in wet environments without damage.

It could enable text addicts to use their devices in the shower. But it also means, of course, that you will have no excuse for refusing to take that early-morning call from your boss.

The technology involves an invisible coating that is chemically bonded to the surface of the instrument, repelling water and preventing it from seeping into the device where it could damage circuitry.

It has been developed by Ministry of Defence scientists at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory in Porton Down, Wilts. A spin-off company, P2i, is in discussions with three leading phone makers about using the coating, Ion-Mask, on their products.

"Mobile phones and MP3 players are too small to be fitted with seals to make them waterproof, so water inevitably can creep in," explained Ian Robins, a development director at P2i. "By making the surface repel water, we have been able to take devices that fail the normal… shower tests, and make them pass.

"Obviously, how waterproof a device is depends on design, but we can ensure that water doesn't seep through joins or small gaps. Some electronics companies want the individual components to be treated too, so they have a much greater level of protection."

The technology works by bonding a protective layer to the device using a plasma - a gas that has been electronically charged. The chemical properties of the layer allow it to repel water and oil. It was developed for treating soldiers' uniforms, so they would repel toxic vapours and liquids in a chemical or biological attack.

While Ion-Mask coating is still used on military gear, it will soon appear in sports equipment for the first time. The shoe giant Hi-Tec has announced that it is launching a range of footwear that will be treated with the Ion-Mask technology.

Rather than absorbing water and dirt, moisture will instead bead off the surface of the specially-designed shoes.

For electronic devices, protection from water is also important. Water damage is one of the top reasons for insurance claims on mobiles, with more than 1.2 million being dropped in lavatories, drinks or put through washing machines last year.

A spokesman for Carphone Warehouse, the UK's largest mobile phone retailer, said: "Most owners are looking for fashion and functionality when they buy a phone, but if it was waterproof too, it could provide a unique selling point."
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