Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) and Boeing (NYSE:BA) will form an alliance to collaborate on nanotechnology research into the future of automobiles and aerospace products, the companies announced Thursday. Details will be finalized later this month.

Why is this important to investors?

First, it tells us that these two industry giants appreciate the promise of nanotechnology as a "disruptive," trail-blazing force in their industries -- the kind of sign that excites the Motley Fool Rule Breakers team.

Second, it shows that the two companies are committed to conducting the research and development that could, someday, provide them with more than a nano-sized advantage over their competitors in the marketplace.

Therefore, investors in competitors, such as General Motors (NYSE:GM) and Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT), should keep an eye on this joint research endeavor.

Let's take a quick look at some examples of how such research could give these companies a competitive edge.

Nanomaterials could make future automobiles and airplanes lighter and stronger, creating a dramatic improvement in fuel efficiency.

For Ford, nanotechnology promises to make everything from new coatings that are scratch-resistant and self-cleaning to batteries that last longer -- a development that could facilitate a faster transition to fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles.

Scientists also believe the unique characteristics of some nanomaterials may allow car engineers to create radical new designs that are pleasing to the eye, and don't compromise passenger safety.

Longer-term, nanotechnology is likely to make hydrogen easier to produce and safer to store as a renewable energy source. In light of this, most experts agree that nanotechnology will play an important role in advancing fuel cell technology.

Boeing stands to benefit from the deal because nanotechnology portends the day when nanosensors can be imbedded directly into the body of an aircraft to identify problems before they ever arise. It is even possible that these nanomaterials can change properties in response to outside conditions. Among the more innovative things nanotechnologists envision are self-healing materials and shape-shifting wings.

Such technologies may sound futuristic, but the exponential advances in our understanding of nanotechnology indicate they may, in fact, be just around the corner. The very fact that Ford and Boeing seem to understand this makes me more bullish on both companies' long-term prospects.

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Fool contributor Jack Uldrich has been thinking small since grade school. He is the president of the NanoVeritas Group and author of the book The Next Big Thing Is Really Small: How Nanotechnology Will Change the Future of Your Business. He does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned in this article. The Fool has a disclosure policy.