The U.S. Defense Department spends big bucks “hardening” individual electronic devices that allow troops to use them in the surf and rain. One company is revolutionizing the way this is done, using a substance called WaterBlock, which negates the need for bulky cases and rubber gaskets that are prone to failure.
Paul Clayson, president and chief executive officer of Salt Lake City-based HzO, said the technology not only costs less, it’s more reliable. And although the company does not have a large-scale defense contract, demonstrations at the Pentagon have been received positively by military leaders, Clayson said.
WaterBlock is a nontoxic, organic, polymer coating that covers the internal workings of any electronic device and makes them impermeable to water, Clayson said. Water is allowed to enter the device freely with no impact on function.
At just 5 microns thick — about the diameter of a human red blood cell — the coating is invisible to the naked eye but allows devices to be submerged in several meters of salt water for hours, days, even months on end without ill effects. It can even withstand hot coffee and solvents or cleaning agents like Lysol.
However, WaterBlock does not completely protect devices. To protect them from impact, they still need a rubberized cover.
Other potential problems include screen fogging. Water entering the device mixes with heat generated by internal electronics to form fog that can make it difficult to make sense of displays.
Clayson said HzO wants gear that’s protected by WaterBlock to include screen seals during the manufacturing process. That would negate the problem.
Batteries and SIM cards also pose challenges. Their contacts require coating with other proprietary materials that don’t inhibit electricity transmission while still offering water protection. Without an additional case, speakers and microphones can also be ruptured by water pressure during deep dives.
To protect a device, it is first disassembled and placed into a vacuum chamber filled with a proprietary vaporized substance, the exact makeup of which is a closely guarded secret.
Because the treatment is delivered in gaseous form, it is able to coat every nook and cranny and, after curing, can stand up to extreme cold and heat beyond the range of anything troops would encounter, Clayson said. The process takes less than two hours.
Unfortunately for those hoping to waterproof personal electronic devices, HzO isn’t accepting individual gear for treatment. The company is working to secure large-volume contracts with military and government agencies, Clayson said. So if you drop your phone into a toilet — the leading cause of water damage — you’re out of luck.
Because the WaterBlock vapor can coat surfaces down to individual fibers, it could be used to waterproof a variety of things from furniture to priceless artifacts. You could even coat a watercolor painting and take it for a swim, according to Clayson. The colors wouldn’t run.