Most discussion about the car of the future focuses on the powertrain, the group of components that generate power, deliver it to the road surface and produce an exhaust byproduct. And understandably so. The challenges are great: to find workable and affordable alternative power sources, to make more efficient use of the power source, and to produce a more benign exhaust byproduct or better, none at all. The offered solutions are complex. In periods of transition like the one the auto industry is now in, we are uncertain, concerned and fixated. Meanwhile, however, better safety and increased power source efficiency continues to inspire research and innovation on other components producing inventions and discoveries that are heralded, but without much fanfare.
Take the windshield of the future, for example. A new wiperless windshield designed by Leonardo Fioravanti of Pininfarina, (the Italian car design firm and coachbuilder founded in 1930 by automobile designer and builder Battista "Pinin" Farina) is already a working prototype in the Hidra concept car. The nanotechnology-based windshield has four layers, with the titanium oxide top layer designed to quickly repel water. A second layer pushes dirt off to its sides, keeping the windshield clean. A third layer works as a sensor, while the fourth layer is charged with electricity to run the whole apparatus.
Another development is the “enhanced vision” windshield described in a recent Associated Press article by Margaret Harding. GM is working on developing a “windshield that combines lasers, infrared sensors and a camera to take what is happening on the road and enhance it, so aging drivers with vision problems are able to see a little more clearly.
GM’s new windshield will not improve their vision, but it will make objects stand out that could otherwise go unnoticed by an aged eye.” This windshield will have a transparent coating that lights up when struck by ultraviolet light. Sensors and a camera will identify important objects already in the driver’s view and make them stand out by, for example, in foggy conditions, prompting a laser to project onto the windshield a blue line that follows the edge of the road. The projection onto the entire area of the windshield will depend on the car’s position, the object on the road, and the driver’s head and visual movement. And while the focus is on the new bulging demographic of baby boomers turning 65, some features are intended to be helpful to drivers of all ages. For instance, if a driver is speeding, a pink frame will highlight an approaching speed limit sign.
Another development is a laminated windshield in which thin photovoltaic solar cells are sandwiched between the glass layers. The solar cells may be formed of dendrite solar cells arranged in flexible strings. These solar cell strings may be positioned in the windshield close to its edge and/or superimposed over tinting or darkened border areas. The solar cell is electrically connected to a vehicle battery to provide recharging current. No more flat batteries, at least while the sun is shining!