Say goodbye to things you can break. Using fiber optics, infrared lasers, and shape-memory polymers, we now have a material that can diagnose damage and get to work fixing itself, even while you're using it.
The basis of this new technology is shape memory polymers, which are materials that can remember what shape you make them in. You can then completely wreck the shape, and by applying heat, the polymer reconstructs itself the just way it was before.
By introducing a fiber optic mesh to into these polymers, researchers at Arizona State have managed to make the smart materials even smarter, to the point where they can tell for themselves if they've been damaged, where they've been damaged, how much they've been damaged, and how to get busy fixing things.
If something happens to the material, the fiber optic network that makes it up gets deformed or broken, and an infrared laser sends pulses of heat along the network to the problem area. This heat first triggers the polymer increase its strength by a factor of 11 to make sure things don't get any worse. The the polymer then completely fixes itself, reforming dents and filling in cracks and restoring itself to 96% of its original strength.
You don't have to build things entirely out of shape memory polymers to enjoy these abilities, since the technology can be embedded in all different kinds of composite materials. This means that eventually, both cars and killer robots may become more or less indestructible.
Check out a video of a shape memory polymer in action, below.