If current auto industry trends continue, anyone driving a car is going to like smart glass. That’s because as glazing technology continues to develop, windshields are going to do a lot more than simply act as a window to the highway by helping to:
- Keep a vehicle’s interior thermal level even and comfortable all year long
- Reduce vehicle weight
- Provide maximum visibility for better, safer driving
- Allow for the integration of smart glass technology features
In fact, smart glass is expected to become a $2.1 billion market by 2019, according to “Smart Glass Opportunities in the Automotive Industry–2014,” a recent report from NanoMarkets.
So what is smart glass?
It’s the catch-all name for car glass that’s had “smart” coating or laminating materials added to it, or that’s been embedded with electronics or sensors to perform navigational tasks.
Making the windshield smart gives it such capabilities as becoming self-tinting, self-cleaning, and self-repairing. Smart glass can even become an entertainment center.
OK, the average windshield isn’t smart enough to repair itself. Yet. However, with glass and glazing technology advancing rapidly, let’s take a quick look at the windshield trends we – and drivers – will soon be looking at in the next few years.
For starters, two windshield design trends prevalent today are helping create a more open feel inside a car, giving drivers a much better look at everything.
- Cielo design: This design allows the windshield to extend up into the roof above the driver’s head.
- Panoramic design: Once a popular feature in the 1950s, the full wraparound windshield is returning, with the sides extending to include the A and C pillars.
Reducing glare and bright sunshine by turning glass from clear to dark with the push of a button sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Led by such well-known smart glass technologies as electrochromic and suspended particle devices (SPD), self-tinting is gaining acceptance by auto manufacturers. It filters out UV light, and also provides thermal insulation to reduce the energy drain of the air conditioner.
Electrochromic technology also allows mirrors to automatically dim when detecting mirror glare, helping drivers at night. In addition, car manufacturers are increasing the use of embedded cameras, sensors, and other electronics to allow mirrors to provide drivers with an accurate, full-range visual display of what’s behind them.
An optimistic term, to say the least, yet there are coatings that do allow a windshield to “self-heal” a small scratch or crack. This capability will improve a car’s aesthetics and possibly lead to safer driving, since a driver can see better through a clearer window. It also means drivers may put off windshield repair or replacement for a longer period of time.
Rapidly gaining in popularity, this smart glass application currently uses different coatings and glazing technology enabling windshield wipers to remove rain or other debris easier and cleaner. There are manufacturers working to develop true “wiperless windshields,” but that capability isn’t quite there. Still, making windshields cleaner – and easier to clean – goes a long way to improving safety.
More and more, manufacturers are placing cameras and electronic sensors in car glass. These permit various heads-up displays to appear on the windshield in front of driver showing road conditions, blind spots, extended views of the road at night, GPS images, and other valuable information. Soon, the rear passenger windows may even become interactive entertainment centers using touchscreen technology.
Glass is definitely getting smarter. Keeping up with growing trends in smart glass is definitely smart business.