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Windscreens: Technology provides a vision of the future

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New developments are shaping the way windscreens are both used and repaired. Sarah Tooze reports on the latest advances

The windscreen of the future will no longer be a piece of glass protecting occupants and offering structural support for the vehicle, it will be a platform for sharing information with the driver.  

Instead of voice commands or the driver having to look down at a separate sat-nav system, GPS information will be projected on to the windscreen, says Chris Davies, head of technical superiority at Autoglass’s parent company, Belron.

Important landmarks, names of side streets or filling stations, for example, will all be pointed out to the driver.
Basic systems are available now on premium cars; more complex and integrated systems will become commonplace.
A driver-facing camera will track the driver’s eye movements, making other applications besides GPS information possible.

“If the camera knows where you are looking you can use glances to the windscreen to control sound and air conditioning, for example,” says Davies, speaking at the Best of Belron event.

This means the driver isn’t taking their eyes off the road, reducing risk. But is there a danger of distracting the driver with too much information?

“If the industry is going to take this technology forward there has got to be a fine balance of understanding,” says Davies.

“Technology should enhance safety, not detract from it. There must be a point at which you’re overloading the driver with so much information that it does become dangerous.

“Anything that keeps the driver looking at the road ahead and doesn’t distract him is good. But there is a fine balance.”

Who will pay for the cost of new windscreens?

How long it will be before display technology in windscreens becomes standard fitment depends on the glass manufacturers – they will have to consider how it can be reliably manufactured in quantity – and how much the car manufacturers are willing to pay for the cost of the technology on the windscreen.

There’s also a question of how much of an increase in price customers might be willing to bear.

Davies points out that all of the components are already available. For example, the Lexus LS is available with a driver-facing camera fitted to the steering column, which monitors the driver’s face.

If the camera detects that the driver  is not looking directly ahead for a few seconds or more, and if an obstacle is detected ahead, the system alerts the driver with a warning beep and a flashing light.

Manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz have also shown concept cars with full head-up displays. Its DICE (dynamic and intuitive control experience) system displays a variety of information on the windscreen, including incoming phone calls, navigation directions and details of points of interest. It is controlled by hand gestures.

Davies points out that Land Rover has released a video showing an off-road vehicle on multiple terrains with a camera fitted underneath it. This feeds information to the driver via the windscreen so they know what the road condition is. It also gives the driver roll and pitch information.

In the immediate future, Davies predicts that advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), such as autonomous emergency braking and lane departure warning systems, will become commonplace in new cars. He feels this will be mainly lead by safety testing organisation Euro NCAP encouraging the uptake of this technology.

This is significant for windscreen repairers because some of the technologies, such as cameras, are fixed on or close to the windscreen.

“More and more manufacturers are using front windscreen-mounted cameras for lane departure warning and traffic sign recognition,” Davies says.

“We’re also seeing more manufacturers putting cameras on the side of vehicles to give a 360° view.
“It’s important when we replace the glass we don’t affect the function of the camera system.”

Davies says lane departure warning systems don’t need to be calibrated so technicians can simply unplug a camera from one windscreen and plug it back on the new screen. Whether other systems will require a visit to the dealership to be calibrated is still being investigated. If they do, it will inevitably increase downtime for fleet operators.

But Davies sees no reason for more complex windscreens to put a stop to mobile repairs. “Unless the glazing technology becomes so complex you have to strip half the car down in order to do the repair, then I imagine it will be just as easy for mobile technicians to do it,” he says.

Autoglass has developed an augmented reality app to provide fitting instructions for its technicians (see page 40).
Davies also suggests that more complex windscreens could cause a divide between suppliers.

“In the future you will have different groups of suppliers,” he says. “Those which can do complex glass and others which can’t. It will fragment what services they provide.”

And will windscreens become more expensive?

“Potentially yes, it depends on the technology,” Davies says. “If you’re just looking at the camera systems, which are not on the glass but look through it, then hopefully the uplift in cost will be minimal.

“But if you’re looking at glass where you have embedded technology that becomes more difficult to manufacture and hence more costly.”

Need for acoustic glass expected to grow

Chris Davies predicts that voice activation will become more widely used for control systems within the vehicle, creating a need for acoustic glass.

“In order to get the benefits of that it probably means you’re going to have to have laminated side glass so there will be more laminated glass within the vehicle,” he says.  

“At the moment the car manufacturers don’t want to use more laminated glass because it’s more expensive than normal tempered glass, but if they are going to design vehicles that have voice activation they’re going to look for quieter vehicles.

“Laminated glass has a sound-proofing effect. If you’ve got a laminate you can also put extra plastic materials in there to give you much better noise dampening.”

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