Boeing develops new metal that could revolutionise aeroplanes

Are you a nervous flyer? Do you do everything in your power not to flap your arms uncontrollably to make sure you stay airborne? Well, you might not want to consider that planes of the future could have elements made from microlattice – a metal developed for Boeing that’s 100 times lighter than styrofoam.

You might also be a touch alarmed to hear the experts explain that the metal is 99.9% air. However, it may give you a little more confidence to learn that the inspiration for the design comes from the hardiest of body parts: bone. While bone is hard on the outside to avoid breakages, the inside is largely hollow to allow us to move around all day without needing a sit-down every five minutes.

That’s also the principle behind microlattice. The titular lattice is made up of a series of hollow nickel tubes, with a wall depth of 100 nanometres. How thin is that in old money? Pluck a hair from your head. Okay, now imagine something 1,000 times thinner than that.

As the video explains, it’s got great potential. Given HRL Laboratories is a joint venture with Boeing, the most obvious applications would be in aeroplanes, making them a lot lighter than today’s models. Less weight means more fuel efficiency, which is good for both the planet and consumers’ wallets. It’s one of those rare instances in business where, potentially, everyone wins – even the environment, which is used to coming last whenever money is concerned.

HRL Laboratories also provides research and development for General Motors, so perhaps the metal of the future needn’t be confined to the skies. Our roads could certainly benefit from a little fuel efficiency, too.

Combine microlattice with the atom-thick graphene lightbulb, and you’ve got one light and tiny car.

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