The future of automotive glass: what can we expect from our future car windows?

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The future of automotive glass: what can we expect from our future car windows?

Safe, quality car windows are standard these days, but that has by no means always been the case. Automotive glass now has a stunning history spanning more than a century. It gets even more interesting when we look at current developments in the automotive glass industry and the features and functions that could be implemented in the coming years. These do not exclusively involve heated automotive glass, but also a completely different composition of the automotive glass and technological gadgets that will make driving more and more like a video game.

Below, we have gathered for you the most important, striking and strangest developments in the future of automotive glass, including some reasons why it is high time for big steps in the field of car windows.

Why we need developments in automotive glass

As you may have read on the history of automotive glass page, the last major development in car windows is now many decades old, unless we call Tesla's panoramic glass a recent development. At the same time, the car industry has not been idle, as have safety guidelines and consumer demands. In other words, it is high time for the car window to do more than just keep out the weather elements and protect us while driving.

On top of this, more and more cars are hybrid or fully electric. These cars have a higher net weight (because of the battery pack and electric motor weight), whereas these models should be as light as possible to increase the driving range. The amount of glass in the average car has increased considerably in recent years, making automotive glass a major contributor to the total weight of the car. Not only is the average consumer and car maker waiting for smarter automotive glass, but at the same time for automotive glass that is lighter.

Thinner automotive glass as a solution

We already briefly mentioned Tesla's panoramic glass, but this is mainly about the shape of the window. What is more interesting is that the average car window has also become considerably thinner in recent years, without compromising on quality. By optimising the manufacturing process of tempered glass, thinner glass is possible that is stronger at the same time.

Head-up display or even a complete AR windscreen

By now, the head-up display should also almost rank among current developments, as more and more models are equipped or can be equipped with this technology. HUD is basically a technology that uses part of the windscreen as a projection screen. As a user, you can set what information you want projected on the windscreen, including:

  • Information from the navigation system
  • Speed
  • Information from your phone and/or infotainment system
  • Notifications from your vehicle (such as open doors, handbrake or tyre pressure warning)
  • ADAS notifications, such as fatigue or unnoticed lane changes

If HUD is not standard in your car, you can also have it retrofitted these days. The cost and options depend on the type of car you have and its year of manufacture. Especially for modern models, this option can add considerable value. You no longer have to look at the dashboard, your navigation screen or phone while driving, but everything is projected in front of you so you do not have to take your eyes off the road.

AR (augmented reality) windscreens no longer involve a small part of the windscreen being used for projection. With this technology, the windscreen turns into a screen on which a virtual world is displayed. In some cases, this involves using the entire windscreen and converting everything into an AR screen. These AR windscreens will not be able to make their appearance until the fully self-driving car, as they are undesirable as long as the driver has to make his own choices behind the wheel. AR windscreens on a smaller scale, where AR is used to provide directions, may be implemented at an earlier stage, though.

WAVE (formerly Morelli Tech) has made a clear video about this where you can see for yourself what such an AR windscreen looks like. In this video, the AR technology is overlaid on top of the driver's actual view, so you can still see what is happening around you.

Self-repairing automotive glass: myth or possibility?

Much has been written and said about glass being able to repair itself, but a real breakthrough came in 2017 when self-healing glass in the form of polyether-thioureas was accidentally discovered in Japan. The funny thing about this is that laminated automotive glass, one of the biggest breakthroughs in automotive glass in the 20th century, was also accidentally discovered.

There was immediate speculation about applications for mobile phones and tablets and even windscreens that could repair themselves in case of windscreen damage, especially since the healing process is already triggered at room temperature (21 degrees Celsius). For the next few years, however, you will remain dependent on windscreen repair and window replacement: as the glass that can repair itself is not nearly strong enough to be used as a windscreen. It is even too weak for mobile phones and tablets. There is still a lot of work and experimentation to be done before the next step can be taken, therefore.

Below is a short, concise explanation of the invention and why it cannot yet be used in its current state.

Electrochemical or thermochromic tinted windows

The next innovation seems considerably minor, but it is bigger than it seems. Electrochemical or thermochromic tinted windows not only sound quite complicated, they are. Both involve windows that can take on different tints. For automotive glass, this is desirable because the amount of incoming light (and therefore heat) can be regulated. Not only would this make sunscreens unnecessary, it also ensures that you can sit behind the wheel in a relaxed manner with the level of light penetration remaining the same throughout the drive.

The major difference between the two options mentioned is that a thermochromic window measures the temperature itself and adjusts the shade colour accordingly. An electrochemical window requires input. This means that with these car windows, you set the tint of the window yourself. In this respect, photochromic windows are also particularly interesting for the automotive industry, as they measure the incidence of light and adjust the tint accordingly.

For completeness: these technologies are of course not only useful and desirable for the automotive glass industry, but also for the construction of modern, smart homes where energy consumption must be reduced.

Gorilla Glass: stronger and lighter (and both are equally important)

Gorilla Glass is a special type of glass developed by Corning, an American-based glass manufacturer that has already supplied glass for numerous electronic devices. Back in 2013, the manufacturer said that Gorilla Glass was on its way to the automotive industry and that big, reputable brands would start using the stronger, lighter glass in new models. Meanwhile, Gorilla Glass is used for the Ford F-150 pick-ups, Jeep Wrangler and the Ford GT, which would be the first passenger car with this automotive glass.

The main drawback to this glass is that it is significantly more expensive than traditional automotive glass (partly because of patents). With that, the question is whether this will be a short-lived fad, the run-up to a completely new type of automotive glass or whether Corning will manage to convince more car manufacturers. For now, it looks set to become an optional window for exclusive cars.

An ultrasonic system that should make windscreen wipers obsolete

Many of the developments mean that the average price of a car window will be significantly higher in the future. That is why manufacturers and developers are already working to reduce the risk of windscreen damage. One of the ways devised for this purpose is to make windscreen wipers obsolete. Perhaps you have already had a big scratch on your windscreen at some point due to a sharp object (such as a pebble) sitting under the wiper. In that case, you immediately understand why McLaren, among others, is keen to get rid of windscreen wipers.

The idea sounds somewhat futuristic: developing an ultrasonic system in the windscreen that prevents rain, snow and sand from sticking to the windscreen. Here we should immediately add that the last major developments in this field are now 10 years old, and at that time the technology was simply too expensive (and cumbersome) to implement in cars.

Ironically, McLaren itself seems to be exploring a completely different path, making cars without a windscreen (and without a roof). However, the McLaren Elva is indeed a car that has no windscreen wipers, so in that respect McLaren has succeeded with this futuristic €2 million model that has no right to exist in the wet Netherlands.

A windscreen with built-in heating coils

The heated windscreen is not a new development. Back in the 1990s, Ford came out with a windscreen that used Quickclear technology and could heat the entire windscreen by means of electrical pulses between the two layers of glass in the laminated windscreen. Meanwhile, the list of car brands offering heated windscreens in at least one of their models is long. Heating coils can be found in:

Keep in mind here that the heated windscreen may be optional and not offered as standard with the model you have in mind. But why is this listed under future developments when it is already being used? It has to do with developments in technology.

Currently, heated windscreens are still scarce. They cost too much money to deploy on a large scale, partly because the defrost mode (you know the drill: the heater full on the windscreen to defrost the window on winter days) does come standard in cars. In addition, a warm windscreen is more susceptible to damage at low temperatures.

If the technology can bring down the price of the heated windscreen as well as keep it stronger in cold weather conditions, it is likely to be used in many more models. That would be nice, because that defrost mode is inefficient and also costs a lot more fuel than a windscreen that can defrost itself.

Acoustic side windows: less noise and less weight

Acoustic side and rear windows are not new. Much work has already been done on laminated side windows and rear windows that can keep a large amount of noise out of the car, but that is just the beginning. Previous developments mainly involved windscreens, but here it is mainly about all other automotive glass. Work is underway on laminated side and rear windows that are lighter than the tempered car windows now used in most models. The layered nature ensures that there is space between the layers to add UV protection and soundproofing, as long as it does not obstruct visibility.

Here we would like to reiterate that more and more cars are driving electric. Acoustic windows are a big advantage for EV drivers (as are quieter car tyres with significantly lower noise emission levels) because the car itself is so quiet that other noises suddenly become more important. For a comfortable journey with pleasant conversations (with occupants or meetings during the journey), these acoustic windows are a breath of fresh air, especially when this also means a lower overall weight of the car and thus a higher driving range or lower fuel consumption.