Smart glass

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Smart glass, Magic Glass, or switchable glass, also called smart windows or switchable windows in its application to windows or skylights, refers to electrically switchable glass or glazing which changes light transmission properties when voltage is applied.

Certain types of smart glass allow users to control the amount of light (and thereby heat) transmission. When activated, the glass changes from transparent to translucent, partially blocking light while maintaining a clear view through the glass. Another type of smart glass can provide complete privacy when activated.

Smart glass technologies include electrochromic devices, suspended particle devices, micro-blinds and liquid crystal devices.

The use of smart glass can save costs for heating, air-conditioning and lighting and avoid the cost of installing and maintaining motorized light screens or blinds or curtains. When opaque, liquid crystal or electrochromic smart glass blocks most UV, thereby reducing fabric fading; for SPD-type smart glass, this is achieved when used in conjunction with low emissivity coatings.

Critical aspects of smart glass include installation costs, the use of electricity, durability, as well as functional features such as the speed of control, possibilities for dimming, and the degree of transparency of the glass.

Smart glass "on"
Smart glass "off"


Electrically switchable smart glass

Electrochromic devices

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An example of PDLC glass as used in a hotel bathroom.

Electrochromic devices change light transmission properties in response to voltage and thus allow control over the amount of light and heat passing through. In electrochromic windows, the electrochromic material changes its opacity: it changes between a colored, translucent state (usually blue) and a transparent state. A burst of electricity is required for changing its opacity, but once the change has been effected, no electricity is needed for maintaining the particular shade which has been reached. Darkening occurs from the edges, moving inward, and is a slow process, ranging from many seconds to several minutes depending on window size. Electrochromic glass provides visibility even in the darkened state and thus preserves visible contact with the outside environment. It has been used in small-scale applications such as rearview mirrors. Electrochromic technology also finds use in indoor applications, for example, for protection of objects under the glass of museum display cases and picture frame glass from the damaging effects of the UV and visible wavelengths of artificial light.

Recent advances in electrochromic materials pertaining to transition-metal hydride electrochromics have led to the development of reflective hydrides, which become reflective rather than absorbing, and thus switch states between transparent and mirror-like.

Recent advancements in modified porous nano-crystalline films have enabled the creation of electrochromic display. The single substrate display structure consists of several stacked porous layers printed on top of each other on a substrate modified with a transparent conductor (such as ITO or PEDOT:PSS). Each printed layer has a specific set of functions. A working electrode consists of a positive porous semiconductor (say Titanium Dioxide, TiO2) with adsorbed chromogens (different chromogens for different colors). These chromogens change color by reduction or oxidation. A passivator is used as the negative of the image to improve electrical performance. The insulator layer serves the purpose of increasing the contrast ratio and separating the working electrode electrically from the counter electrode. The counter electrode provides a high capacitance to counterbalances the charge inserted/extracted on the SEG electrode (and maintain overall device charge neutrality). Carbon is an example of charge reservoir film. A conducting carbon layer is typically used as the conductive back contact for the counter electrode. In the last printing step, the porous monolith structure is overprinted with a liquid or polymer-gel electrolyte, dried, and then may be incorporated into various encapsulation or enclosures, depending on the application requirements. Displays are very thin, typically 30 micrometer, or about 1/3 of a human hair. The device can be switched on by applying an electrical potential to the transparent conducting substrate relative to the conductive carbon layer. This causes a reduction of viologen molecules (coloration) to occur inside the working electrode. By reversing the applied potential or providing a discharge path, the device bleaches. A unique feature of the electrochromic monolith is the relatively low voltage (around 1 Volt) needed to color or bleach the viologens. This can be explained by the small over- potentials needed to drive the electrochemical reduction of the surface adsorbed viologens/chromogens.

Suspended particle devices

In suspended particle devices (SPDs), a thin film laminate of rod-like particles suspended in a fluid is placed between two glass or plastic layers, or attached to one layer. When no voltage is applied, the suspended particles are arranged in random orientations and tend to absorb light, so that the glass panel looks dark (or opaque), blue or, in more recent developments, grey or black colour. When voltage is applied, the suspended particles align and let light pass. SPDs can be manually or automatically “tuned” to precisely control the amount of light, glare and heat passing through, reducing the need for air conditioning during the summer months and heating during winter. Other advantages include reduction of buildings' carbon emissions and the elimination of a need for expensive window dressings.

Polymer dispersed liquid crystal devices

In polymer dispersed liquid crystal devices (PDLCs), liquid crystals are dissolved or dispersed into a liquid polymer followed by solidification or curing of the polymer. During the change of the polymer from a liquid to solid, the liquid crystals become incompatible with the solid polymer and form droplets throughout the solid polymer. The curing conditions affect the size of the droplets that in turn affect the final operating properties of the "smart window". Typically, the liquid mix of polymer and liquid crystals is placed between two layers of glass or plastic that include a thin layer of a transparent, conductive material followed by curing of the polymer, thereby forming the basic sandwich structure of the smart window. This structure is in effect a capacitor.

Electrodes from a power supply are attached to the transparent electrodes. With no applied voltage, the liquid crystals are randomly arranged in the droplets, resulting in scattering of light as it passes through the smart window assembly. This results in the translucent, "milky white" appearance. When a voltage is applied to the electrodes, the electric field formed between the two transparent electrodes on the glass causes the liquid crystals to align, allowing light to pass through the droplets with very little scattering and resulting in a transparent state. The degree of transparency can be controlled by the applied voltage. This is possible because at lower voltages, only a few of the liquid crystals align completely in the electric field, so only a small portion of the light passes through while most of the light is scattered. As the voltage is increased, fewer liquid crystals remain out of alignment, resulting in less light being scattered. It is also possible to control the amount of light and heat passing through, when tints and special inner layers are used. It is also possible to create fire-rated and anti X-Ray versions for use in special applications. Most of the devices offered today operate in on or off states only, even though the technology to provide for variable levels of transparency is easily applied. This technology has been used in interior and exterior settings for privacy control (for example conference rooms, intensive-care areas, bathroom/shower doors) and as a temporary projection screen.


Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) image of Micro-blinds

Micro-blinds—currently under development at the National Research Council (Canada)[1][2]—control the amount of light passing through in response to applied voltage. Micro-blinds are composed of rolled thin metal blinds on glass. They are very small and thus practically invisible to the eye. The metal layer is deposited by magnetron sputtering and patterned by laser or lithography process. The glass substrate includes a thin layer of a transparent conductive oxide (TCO) layer. A thin insulator is deposited between the rolled metal layer and the TCO layer for electrical disconnection. With no applied voltage, the micro-blinds are rolled and let light pass through. When there is a potential difference between the rolled metal layer and the transparent conductive layer, the electric field formed between the two electrodes causes the rolled micro-blinds to stretch out and thus block light. The micro-blinds have several advantages including switching speed (milliseconds), UV durability, customized appearance and transmission. Theoretically, the blinds are simple and cost-effective to fabricate.[1][2] A video available on YouTube [3] describes briefly the micro-blinds.

Mechanical smart windows

A low cost alternative to high-tech intelligent windows is composed of two retro reflective panels mounted back-to-back with a narrow gap in between. When a liquid with the same refractive index as that of the panels is pumped into the cavity between them, the glass becomes transparent. When the liquid is pumped out, the glass turns retro reflective again. An example of this kind of window is the Norwegian brand, Sunvalve.

Related areas of technology

The expression smart glass can be interpreted in a wider sense to include also glazings that change light transmission properties in response to an environmental signal such as light or temperature.

These types of glazings cannot be controlled manually. In contrast, all electrically switched smart windows can be made to automatically adapt their light transmission properties in response to temperature or brightness by integration with a thermometer or photosensor, respectively

The topic of smart windows in a further sense includes LED Embedded Films which may be switched on at reduced light intensity. The process of laminating these LED embedded films between glass will allow the production of Transparent LED embedded glasses. As most glass companies are not skilled in mounting LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) onto metallized glass, the LEDs are located on a separate transparent conductive polymeric interlayer[4] that may be laminated by any glass lamination unit.

Production technologies

Smart glass is produced by means of lamination of two or more glass or polycarbonate sheets.[5]

Examples of use

Smart glass using one of the aforementioned technologies has been seen in a number of high profile applications. Large scale installations were completed at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin where over 800,000 people per year can see smart glass being used in interactive displays and privacy windows. Smart glass was used to launch the Nissan Micra CC in London using a four-sided glass box made up of 150 switchable glass panels which switched in sequence to create a striking outdoor display. The main use for smart glass is in internal partitions where many companies now enjoy the ability to switch screens and doors from clear to private.

Smart glass has found uses in the healthcare industry, where easily cleaned surfaces are essential and there are considerations of patient privacy. Smart glass products can replace traditional blind systems that are difficult to clean and can harbor dirt and bugs. Research has shown that patient comfort can help reduce recovery time.

One of the most popular Smart Glass applications is as projection screens.

Another example of use is the installation of PDLC-based smart glass, in The EDGE, a glass cube which protrudes out from the 88th floor skydeck of the world's highest residential tower, Eureka Towers, located in Melbourne. The cube can hold 13 people. When it extends out of the building by 3 metres, the glass is made transparent, giving the cube's occupants views of Melbourne from a height of 275 metres. The same type of smart glass has also been proposed for use in hospital settings to controllably provide patients with privacy as needed.

PDLC technology was used in a display to unveil the Nissan GTR at the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto.

In the media, the updated set for the Seven Network's Sunrise program features a Smart Glass background that uses liquid crystal switchable glass (AGP UMU Glass) supplied by Architectural Glass Projects. The technology is especially suited to this purpose, as the set was originally open to a public place, meaning that people could do obscene things behind the presenters. The new set with Smart Glass allows the street scene to be visible at times, or replaced with either opaque or transparent blue colouring, masking the view.

Bloomberg Television currently features Smart Glass backgrounds in its studios in New York and London.

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner features electrochromic windows which replace the pull down window shades on existing aircraft. NASA is looking into using electrochromics to manage the thermal environment experienced by the newly developed Orion and Altair space vehicles.

Smart glass has been used in some small-production cars. The Ferrari 575 M Superamerica had an electrochromic roof as standard, and the Maybach has a PDLC roof as option. Some Polyvision Privacy Glass has been applied in the Maybach 62 car for privacy protection purposes.

A Hong Kong office uses 130 square meters of Privacy Glass, which is available in sizes up to 1,500 x 3,200 mm.

ICE 3 high speed trains use electrochromatic glass panels between the passenger compartment and the driver's cabin.

The elevators in the Washington Monument use smart glass in order for passengers to view the commemorative stones inside the monument.

ICE 3 train with view into driver's cab
Same train with glass panel switched to "frosted" mode

Popular culture

See also


  1. ^ a b Microblinds and a method of fabrication thereof, United States Patent 2006196613
  2. ^ a b Boris Lamontagne, Pedro Barrios, Christophe Py and Suwas Nikumb (2009). "The next generation of switchable glass: the Micro-Blinds". GLASS PERFORMANCE DAYS 2009: 637–639.
  3. ^ "Smart glass based on micro-blinds".
  4. ^ SUN-TEC Swiss United Technologies Inc. Daniel Shavit, DE202007008410 "Translucent conductive Interlayer with SMD Surface Mounted Electronic Devices - LED embedded films"
  5. ^ Technologies of smart glass production

External links