Is Sugru the future of fixing?

A review of Sugru, the bizarre rubbery substance that claims to fix almost anything

Throughout the week, Rob Walker writes about technology and culture. Before coming to Yahoo! News, Walker wrote about technology, business and culture for The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, Fast Company and Wired, as well as the public radio program Marketplace. From 2004 to 2011, he wrote the Consumed column for The New York Times Magazine, addressing consumer culture, design and marketing. His most recent book, co-edited with Joshua Glenn, is the collection “Significant Objects: 100 Extraordinary Stories About Ordinary Things.” He is also the author of “Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are” and “Letters From New Orleans.”

by Rob Walker

New gadgets, new games, new apps: If you read about tech stuff much (and the fact that you’re reading this suggests you might), the endless gusher of the new can get old. But what about a new material?

Sugru bills itself as a “new self-setting rubber,” devised for everyday people to make routine fixes and improvements to material goods. The little packs of Play-Doh-like stuff can be hand-molded to patch frays and cracks in a variety of objects, or even sculpt ergonomic add-ons like grips and tabs onto things made of plastic, wood, glass and so on. This rather amazing demo video suggested an intersection of high-tech form with workaday function, and sounded interesting enough to explore in the Yahoo! News Test Kitchen. So I got some.

First, here’s the background. Sugru’s roots go back to 2003, when a graduate student in a product design program began experimenting with material that started out hand-formable, would “cure” into something more solid and could be used to fix and improve existing objects. Years of experimentation, iteration, consultation and investment-seeking followed. Eventually the product made its way to market, and continued to evolve via user feedback. Now it has a devoted cult following in the DIY/maker world, and in the UK has begun to make inroads into more mainstream settings like brick-and-mortar stores and home-shopping TV.

When I received my batch — eight five-gram hunks of the stuff in various colors, each in a sealed packet — I was a little uncertain how to proceed. The packaging offers some suggestions for first fixes, but the directions seemed willfully vague. Perhaps I’m used to products that more or less dictate how I’m supposed to use them; in this case it was up to me.

Finally I settled on two obvious problems. First, the cracked corner of an iPod Touch, which I’d disguised with electrical tape. Second, the end of a charging cord that our dog had elected to treat as a chew toy. I busted open two packets, mushed the stuff onto my damaged goods and made an attempt to prettify my clumsy molding with an X-acto knife. This took maybe 20 minutes. Reasonably satisfied, I set my Sugru-ed objects aside. By the following morning, the stuff had hardened, as promised, into something like a medium-heft variety of rubber.

I was quite happy with the results, particularly with the iPod Touch, which now seems better protected from further damage than it did when it was “protected” by tape. Then again, my wife indicated (by way of chuckling) that my patch job on that charger cord was effective but, aesthetically speaking, pretty crude.


Rob Walker uses Sugru on a broken iPod cord and his broken iPod Touch.


Obviously I’ll have to take some personal blame for that. But it’s fair to make the point that the slick-looking Sugru deployments highlighted in the product’s packaging and online marketing require more genuine hand skill than most of us possess. That’s why I would have appreciated something more than the minimalist instructions: While I don’t particularly care about the styling of this charger cord, I’d want some solid lessons on, say, not leaving thumbprints behind before I’d use Sugru on anything that others might actually scrutinize. (And actually, giving users explicit practice exercises to experiment with spare Sugru isn’t a bad idea: The packs “stay fresh” for six months, or 14 if you freeze them, and I’m wondering if I’ll come up with enough uses for my initial batch before it expires.)

That said, Sugru is weirdly impressive. And I love the ideology that this material represents: It is wildly easy to use, and certainly more effective in extending the life of objects teetering on the edge of becoming garbage than my previous solutions (a combination of electrical tape and denial).

I’m all for the idea of something new — that’s all about saving something that isn’t.

*

You can follow Rob Walker on Twitter.

More Tech News

  • It's not Susanna Reid's week - now her dress has split on Good Morning Britain
    It's not Susanna Reid's week - now her dress has split on Good Morning Britain

    The breakfast news presenter suffered a “spectacular” problem with her outfit this morning,

  • Supreme Court rejects free speech appeal over Cinco de Mayo school dispute
    Supreme Court rejects free speech appeal over Cinco de Mayo school dispute

    By Lawrence Hurley WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday left intact an appeals court ruling that school officials in California did not violate the free speech rights of students by demanding they remove T-shirts bearing images of the U.S. flag at an event celebrating the Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo. The court declined to hear an appeal filed by three students at Live Oak High School in the town of Morgan Hill, south of San Francisco. School officials said they feared the imposition of American patriotic imagery by some students at an event where other students were celebrating their pride in their Mexican heritage would incite fights between the two groups.

  • Crash Captain Screamed 'Open The Damn Door!'
    Crash Captain Screamed 'Open The Damn Door!'

    Andreas Lubitz, 27, apparently locked the captain out of the cabin and deliberately flew the Germanwings jet into a mountain, killing 150 people. He then tries to smash through the heavily reinforced door with an axe, while yelling at a silent Lubitz to "open the damn door". Before leaving the cockpit, the captain is heard telling Lubitz he did not have time to go to the toilet before they left Barcelona for Dusseldorf. Police found medicines for treating psychological conditions during searches at his home in Dusseldorf, according to German newspaper Welt am Sonntag.

  • Rogue Catholic bishops plan to grow schismatic challenge to Rome
    Rogue Catholic bishops plan to grow schismatic challenge to Rome

    By Stephen Eisenhammer NOVA FRIBURGO, Brazil (Reuters) - Two renegade Catholic bishops plan to consecrate a new generation of bishops to spread their ultra-traditionalist movement called "The Resistance" in defiance of the Vatican, one of them said at a remote monastery in Brazil. French Bishop Jean-Michel Faure, himself consecrated only two weeks ago by the Holocaust-denying British Bishop Richard Williamson, said the new group rejected Pope Francis and what it called his "new religion" and would not engage in a dialogue with Rome until the Vatican turned back the clock. Williamson and Faure, who were both excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church when the former made the latter a bishop without Vatican approval, are ex-members of a larger dissenting group that has been a thorn in Rome's side for years.

  • U.S. defense chief sees military recruitment challenges ahead
    U.S. defense chief sees military recruitment challenges ahead

    By David Alexander ABINGTON, Pa. (Reuters) - The U.S. military faces a challenge recruiting people with the high-tech skills it needs for the future as those who joined after the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks leave the service and the U.S. economy creates more jobs, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Monday.

  • Bionic ants could be tomorrow's factory workers

    By Amy Pollock Robotic ants the size of a human hand that work together could be the future of factory production systems. The developers, German technology firm Festo, say it's not just the unusual anatomy of real-world ants that inspired the bionic version - the collective intelligence of an ant colony was also something they wanted to replicate. Festo says that in the future production systems will be based on intelligent individual components that adjust themselves to different production demands by communicating with each other.

  • Top Gear Boss Denies Quitting Amid Clarkson Row
    Top Gear Boss Denies Quitting Amid Clarkson Row

    The executive producer of Top Gear has denied reports he has left the show in the wake of the departure of presenter Jeremy Clarkson. Andy Wilman sent an email to staff on Monday congratulating them on making "one of the most iconic programmes in TV history", which was obtained by the motoring news website Jalopnik, which published it in full. The contents of the email were widely reported as being Mr Wilman's resignation statement. But in a statement released on Tuesday, he said: "The email I wrote yesterday was not a resignation statement, and nor was it meant for public consumption.

  • Argentine workers walk out in general strike over taxes

    By Eliana Raszewski and Jorge Otaola BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina's public transport networks ground to a halt, port workers in the grains export hub of Rosario downed tools and banks shuttered their doors on Tuesday in a general strike over demands for changes to income tax. The prospect of further labour disputes as unions knuckle down to wage negotiations is another headache for President Cristina Fernandez, who is battling to revive a stagnant economy and avoid the government's latest debt default deepening. Transport unions spearheading Tuesday's strike are demanding the leftist government raise the minimum threshold on income tax as part of salary negotiations.

Follow Yahoo! News

Loading...