Smart glass is defined in different ways by different sources. In essence it is glass—for windows, displays, etc.—to which “smarts” have been added, either by coating or laminating some smart material or by embedding sensors or other electronics. Smart glass can be used in buildings and also in cars and trucks, which is our primary concern here.
Smart glass can provide a variety of capabilities for auto glass—self-tinting (a.k.a. self-dimming) windows, self-cleaning windows, self-repairing windows and enhanced in-car information and entertainment systems. In fact, smart glass has been providing functionality of this kind for many years, but has never shown signs of being much more than a tiny market niche within the huge auto glass sector.
Until very recently, the addressable market for smart auto glass has never seemed to extend much beyond luxury vehicles or (in a few cases) car enthusiasts who buy aftermarket products. And the low performance of many smart auto glass products makes it quite difficult for many smart auto glass products to penetrate to any great degree even the small addressable markets.
This rather pessimistic appraisal of the here and now for smart auto glass seems to contrast with the high level of interest that NanoMarkets is seeing in smart auto glass at major glass makers, electronics firms, and car companies. We think that this dichotomy can be explained by the fact that the potential for smart auto glass seems to fit into three key trends in the auto glass sector and in the auto industry more generally: cars and trucks becoming “smart objects,” improved fuel economy and response to environmental considerations, and changing design priorities.
In all three cases, the challenges to revenue are both technological and market oriented. The glass and coatings industry must find ways to improve the performance of smart auto glass. The car and truck makers must find ways to turn smart glass into buying points for customers. At present, the rush to install smart glass in the automotive sector is mainly on the supply side.
Automobiles, Glass and the Internet-of-Things
Automobiles are considered likely to become important nodes in the coming Internet-of-Things (IoT) by important players. For example, California and Nevada already have rules governing robotized autonomous driving. And the IEEE is designing standards for an on-board local area network (LAN) that operates at 1 Gbps.
Meanwhile, the role that glass will play in the automotive IoT is testified to by Corning’s promotional movie, “A Day in Glass,” which shows how new forms of glass will play a key role in the evolution of both homes and cars. As NanoMarkets sees it, there are three types of smart glass-related opportunities emerging from the automotive IoT:
Enhanced control of existing smart glass products. Some existing “smart” glass products actually respond to the environment in a dumb way! Thus, passive self-tinting glass, tints when the light is strong and becomes less tinted when conditions darken. In a car, one might want more control reflecting other comfort and safety requirements. Active self-tinting glass provides additional control with use of more sensors and systems management sub-systems.
Sensors and other devices embedded in glass. Heaters and antennas have been embedded in glass for many years. However, the emergence of vehicles as part of the IoT suggests that more complex devices will need to be embedded in glass in the future. For example, where auto glass serves in instrument displays and displays for entertainment sensors, there may be an opportunity to embed sensors for gestural control or various other kinds of electronics for heads-up displays, etc.
Opportunities for new kinds of display glass for smart auto systems. NanoMarkets anticipates new kinds of displays such as transparent, curved and flexible displays. The glass for these displays will not actually be smart. Rather, the opportunity will be for new kinds of display glass for enhanced intelligence in the car itself. Corning’s “A Day in Glass” implicitly emphasizes this kind of opportunity
All of these apparent opportunities should be seen in context. IoT is a concept that is getting a lot of airplay in technical circles, but is still not talked about much among the general public. In the best of worlds, IoT will become the key shaper for electronics over the coming decade – and smart glass will be able to leverage this trend to generate new business revenues.
But if the general public sees nothing to get excited about in IoT in cars – or in IoT more generally, the smart auto glass opportunities may not emerge. The bottom line here then is that betting smart glass opportunities on cars becoming smart objects is risky business!