If you are a serious movie buff, then you may remember the scene in the 1982 film Blade Runner when Harrison Ford’s character is administering a polygraph-like test to see if Sean Young’s character is a replicant. The windows in that scene darken suddenly so he can administer the test. Or, if you’ve seen the 2014 movie Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the glass in the S.H.I.E.L.D. office in Washington, D.C. has dimmable glass. Those are depictions of what we call “smart glass.”
In fact, the amazing technology of smart glass currently goes by a number of different names like “switchable glass,” “smart windows,” or “changeable tint.” Yet, regardless of the name, this technology is poised to usher us into a new world of energy-efficient, more attractive windows. And the application of smart glass is not just for offices. Smart glass is being used in homes and cars as well.
So, what is smart glass? How does it work? And what will it mean for the future of window tinting? This blog will dive into some of those questions. Of course, this blog can only scratch the surface on this relatively new technology. If you want more detailed information, or if you want smart tint on your vehicle’s windows today, be sure to contact us at Tint Tech. You can call 1-403-968-8468, or fill out our online contact form. As Calgary’s best window tinting business, Tint Tech is on the cutting edge of the window tinting world. We are, without question, excited about what smart glass will mean for the future.
Smart Glass: What is it exactly?
Generally speaking, smart glass is a type of glass that will change from clear to opaque at the push of a button, or automatically based on the environment. There are many different versions of smart glass. Some smart glass will go from clear to an opaque white-frosted look and back again, while others will go from clear to a dark tinted, or mirrored look.
Although there are many variations, the idea is the same – glass will change from transparent to translucent (or even opaque) with just the introduction of electricity, light, or heat. Typically, windows can be dimmed or made translucent at the push of a button. Amazing, right?
Smart Glass: What technology is being used to make it work?
There are actually a number of different types of technologies behind smart glass. They include
- Micro-blind, and
- Polymer-dispersed liquid-crystal devices.
That sounds like a lot of scientific terminology, but it is fairly simple. “Electrochromic” is actually a compound word derived from two Greek roots. “Electro” refers to electricity, and “chromic” refers to color. Chromatography deals with the changing of color. Therefore, electrochromic means that something will change color (or be tinted) with the introduction of electricity.
The same holds true for “photochromic” and “thermochromic.” Those terms refer, respectively, to something changing color due to light (photochromic), or heat (thermochromic). In fact, you likely already know photochromic glass because it is the technology used for glasses that turn into sunglasses when exposed to sunlight.
Specifically with regard to electrochromic glass (which is a rather popular technology for smart glass), the way it functions is fascinating. The glass is actually made up of several ultra-thin layers, including a layer with electrodes, and electrical contact layers on either side of the electrodes.
When the window is clear, lithium ions settle on one layer of electrodes. But, when a small amount of voltage is applied to the electrodes, the lithium ions move to activate another layer of electrodes that reflect light, thus turning the window opaque. That remains until the voltage is reversed, and the lithium ions move back to the initial layer, making the window clear again. Electricity is not needed to maintain the window in a clear or opaque state. Power is only needed to change them from one state back to the other. So, the push of a button on a remote device is enough to change the window back and forth.
Smart Glass: Why is it better?
Windows are a double-edged sword, and always have been. What that means is that windows are both important to our well-being, and a challenge environmentally. On the plus side, without windows our office buildings and homes would be dark, sad places indeed. Windows brighten our homes and workplaces, and consequently our day-to-day lives. Also, it goes without saying that cars (and all other vehicles) need windows, or we would all be in serious trouble.
Yet, windows are terrible when it comes to allowing in the elements. Insulated walls are quite good at keeping in heat during the winter, and keeping cool air in during the summer. However, windows present a challenge. Windows allow tons of heat to come inside, so you have to crank the air conditioner just to keep a building, or your car, sufficiently cool. That puts a strain on your air conditioning use, and ultimately the environment. Of course, the same is true during the winter, when windows do a poor job of keeping out the cold.
Up to now, we typically have used blinds and curtains to try to handle the heat and glare that comes with having windows. But those are inefficient tools compared to smart windows. Either at the push of a button or even triggered automatically by the environment, smart windows will turn opaque so that UV rays, added heat, and glare will not come through. Yet, when those elements are not at play, then you can enjoy the view!
The Way of the Future
You will hear more about smart glass as it becomes integrated into our daily lives, and Tint Tech will be sure to give you more information about the future of smart glass. But, you should know that the future is already here in many respects. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner currently uses electrochromic windows, which have replaced pull-down window shades. NASA is looking into using smart glass for the newly developed Orion space vehicle, and ICE 3 high-speed trains are using smart glass panels to separate the passenger compartment and the driver’s cabin.
The professionals at Tint Tech will be telling you more about smart glass in the future, but feel free to call to learn more about installing smart glass or smart tint for your home or car windows today. Just call 1-403-968-8468, or fill out our online contact form.