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Advances in glass could revolutionise car design

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The desire for ever better fuel economy and lower environmental impact is driving innovation in the automotive glass market, a new report suggests.

In the past 10 years, the glazed area of cars has increased by 15% and now accounts for 30% of the vehicle’s structural integrity, while its thickness has decreased by 10%.

However, smart screen evolution will result in the introduction of even thinner, stronger glass that will make tomorrow’s cars more environmentally friendly.

Corning’s Gorilla Glass, the durable glass used on tablets and smartphones, has already been used in the BMW i8 hybrid sports car and the company is keen to bring the strong, lightweight and scratch-resistant material into more of the 4.5 billion-square-metre automotive flat glass market.

Meanwhile, scientists at McGill University in Canada have developed a new type of glass inspired by the interlocking structure of sea mollusc shells, which is 200 times tougher than ordinary glass.

Technology also has the potential for glass to be used to keep car interiors cool, cutting the need for energy-intensive air conditioning systems, while embedded photovoltaics could produce emissions-free energy.

Dr Chris Davies, head of technical research and innovation at Autoglass, said: “Vehicle manufacturers are likely to use more glass in the future – as it is lighter than metal – alongside more use of composite materials like carbon fibre.

“It allows designers more freedom with exterior and interior aesthetics and colours. And, because the surface area is getting bigger, glass is getting thinner to compensate in terms of weight.”

‘Window to the Future’ – a report commissioned by Autoglass – says environmental issues will add momentum to the development and implementation of these smart screen technologies, and fleets will be among the early adopters due to their shorter renewal cycle.

Research from Autoglass also suggests that driver behaviour and safety are typically one of the top concerns for fleet managers in the UK.

Windscreen features that in future lead to fewer accidents, lower repair bills, lower insurance premiums and less driver downtime, but are integrated with fleet and HR policies, are therefore likely to be the most popular with fleets.

Autoglass expert Dr Gwen Daniel sees the windscreen as a potential tool to providing connectivity between the vehicle and driver, and the fleet manager.

Fleets would be able to see both centrally and remotely “all the information on the car and if it’s been experiencing problems”, explained Daniel.

Dr Lisa Dorn, director of the driving research group at Cranfield University, agrees. She believes that smart windscreens could play a crucial role in improving driving, helping fleet managers increase efficiency and reduce crashes.

She said: “When you can actually know how a car or truck is being driven, you can feed back to a driver.

“This could take what the telematics systems do right now into the windscreen.”

The Window to the Future report suggests that augmented reality displays could also pay dividends. The first signs of the exciting future generation of heads-up displays could be seen at this year’s New York Motor Show.

Land Rover’s Discovery Vision concept incorporates a smart glass roof and windows capable of displaying images and deploying eye-tracking technology.

Eye-tracking sensors embedded within a smart windscreen can monitor drivers’ alertness levels, and nudge cars to react automatically to hazards the system knows they have failed to spot.

They can also enhance the effectiveness of heads-up display systems, ensuring that information projected on the windscreen is always in the driver’s line of sight.

Neil Greig, director of policy and research at the Institute of Advanced Motorists, said: “Eye tracking has huge potential to cut the number of ‘fail-to-look’ crashes, the most common car accident, especially among young drivers who research shows don’t look into the distance properly.”

With several manufacturers currently developing windscreen technology, the next-generation glass could come to market with the next model lifecycles – typically three to five years away – putting them well within the reach of fleets.

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