I was invited by the Belron Group to be part of a global panel of 33 industry experts, whose expertise ranged from automotive engineering, research and development, fleet, insurance, academia, and the media. Belron, a 117-year-old company, is the world’s leading vehicle glass repair and replacement group with 26,500 employees operating across 34 countries and five continents. The panel’s charter was to identify the future direction of automotive technology and how these changes will be integrated into the windshields of tomorrow. The Belron Group, headquartered in Belgium, is the parent company of Safelite Auto Glass.
I want to share some of the findings of this report on how the emergence of the "smart windshield" will impact fleet operations.
The Integration of Technology into Windshields
The windshield is a critical safety component of a vehicle, protecting passengers in the event of a rollover and aiding in proper airbag deployment. However, the windshield is no longer just an independent part comprised of a vinyl interlayer sandwiched between two pieces of glass. What is changing is that windshields are becoming more technologically integrated with the rest of the vehicle. Technology integration in automotive glass parts has doubled since 2009, a trend that is expected to continue.
As a result, vehicle glass replacement costs are increasing as more technology, such as advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) are being incorporated into windshields.
Some examples are:
- Windshield-embedded video sensors as part of the lane departure alert system.
- Collision avoidance systems with a camera and radar located on the windshield.
- Automatic rain-sensing windshield wipers.
- Sensors to help moderate the vehicle’s cruise control, defroster, and lights.
- Heads-up displays to project an “overlay” of important information on the windshield.
- Night vision with an infrared camera mounted on the windshield.
- Hydrophobic coating to cause rain to run off and improve visibility in inclement weather.
These ADAS systems are often located at the upper, inner surface of the windshield.
Automotive Lightweighting Initiatives
Automotive manufacturers are designing vehicles to reduce overall curb weight to optimize fuel efficiency and, as a consequence, reduce CO2 emissions. The global trend to downsize vehicles has prompted automotive designers to increase the amount of glass to help reduce cabin claustrophobia and improve design aesthetics. One manifestation is that windshield size has increased 14 percent in the past five years, from approximately 12.8 square feet, on average, to approximately 14.6 square feet.
Similarly, windshields have become thinner to lighten vehicles and to mitigate the weight from the increased amount of glass. The thickness of automotive glass has decreased by 1 percent in the past 10 years, with thicknesses varying by individual make and model of vehicle.
In the past 10 years alone, the glazed area of cars has increased by 15 percent. As a result, windshields will continue to play an even greater role in the structural integrity of the vehicle, now accounting for up to 30 percent of a car’s torsional rigidity.
One adverse consequence is that replacement glass will become more expensive as more technologies are incorporated into the windshield design. In addition, there are a number of other variables in the actual glass that will impact future replacement costs, such as heat-reduction, theft-resistance, and acoustic interlayer. A windshield in a particular model may incorporate several of these features.
Future Direction of Windshield Technology
In tomorrow’s automobiles, the windshield will not only be the glass in the car, but it could very well become a fully functioning screen. There is ongoing research about using the rear glass as a screen to display both entertainment and information.
Another interesting application is an electrochromatic glazing system incorporating sensors capable of identifying the location of the sun, which would then slightly darken that portion of the windshield, a kind of a smart sun visor. Solar control glazing in windows will also be used to keep vehicle interiors cool, minimizing the need for an energy intensive A/C system.
It is also envisioned that the windshields of the future will capture the energy of the sun striking the glass to power many of the vehicle’s electrical components. Photovoltaic cells embedded in the windshield and in the sunroof will capture and store solar energy that will be distributed to other vehicle components.
From a safety perspective, automotive researchers are experimenting with eye tracking sensors embedded in a smart windshield to monitor a driver’s alertness levels.
These are ust a few of the many changes being contemplated for future evolutions of the smart windshield. But, as with every beneficial technology, these enhancements will come with a price tag.
Let me know what you think.