Of all of the stunning future tech on display in Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner, nothing captured the public’s imagination like the film’s groundbreaking depiction of dimmable smart glass for the home. And though it hasn’t rolled out quite as dramatically on the consumer market just yet (the film is set in 2019, so there’s still time) on the aviation front, smart glass is definitely having a moment.
Michigan-based Gentex Corporation, which provides the electrochromic technology used in PPG Aerospace’s interactive window systems on the Boeing 787, has begun shipping a darker, second generation product to enhance #PaxEx. And, as RGN reported in January, Gentex is already hard at work developing a third generation solution that will be up to ten times darker than the darkest offering it makes.
On the other side of the proverbial pond, Lyon, France-based Vision Systems is offering a different kind of smart glass – Suspended Particle Device (SPD) Electronically Dimmable Windows (EDWs) which boast variable shading from fully clear to an extremely dark state, with over 99.9% light blockage, in mere seconds.
Developed through a partnership with Research Frontiers – which licensed its SPD film to Vision Systems for use in the solution – Vision Systems EDWs can be controlled from a touch panel directly on the window, a control panel, a wireless tablet or automatically with integrated light sensors.
At present, Vision Systems’ Nuance-branded EDWs are installed or being installed in a variety of general and corporate aircraft including the Dassault F5X (skylight), Epic E1000, Airbus Helicopters H175, and HondaJet HA-420 and it has several new projects under way in a number of different market segments.
“Vision Systems’ SPD Electronically Dimmable Windows are unique on the market today and offer many advantages over electrochromic systems,” suggests company communication manager Alexandra Martin-Devaud. “Our EDWs use SPD film enclosed between thin layers of glass or polycarbonate. The SPD film contains microscopic particles that align so that light can pass through when an electrical voltage is applied.
“When there is no voltage, when the power is off, the particles are in disarray and block the light. Adjusting the voltage to the film provides a range of transparencies from very dark to clear. They also contribute to a reduction of air conditioning consumption as they default to their darkest possible state when the aircraft is on the ground, maximizing heat rejection and keeping the interior cooler, with a reduction of inside temperature up to 10°C/18°F.”
Vision Systems also touts the fact that its EDWs have no moving parts as the electronics are fully integrated, reducing maintenance costs and downtime. “They can be incorporated into flat or curved surfaces 2D, 3D, plastic, glass or composite glass, offering an unprecedented optical quality, and no orb effect. They also participate to weight reduction of about 30% compared with motorized shades, and do not add weight in comparison to a window with a manual shade,” notes Martin-Devaud. The entire inside window, including the casing, can be replaced with a mechanical operation tailor-made for the aftermarket.
Vision Systems believes its EDWs can improve the passenger experience on commercial airlines, though it has yet to formally crack this space. Aside from helping to compensate for passenger’s “obligation to remain seated in a cramped space for hours” by offering more “visual and thermal comfort”, the EDWs can also help carriers stand out from the pack, suggests Martin-Devaud. “In a very competitive environment, they need to differentiate their offer by providing greater comfort.”
And speaking of a competitive environment, Vision System this week will seek to grab the attention of commercial and business aviation managers alike with the unveiling of its Acti-Vision Window solution at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg. Combining an EDW for solar protection with a fully-integrated transparent video display window offering interactive moving map and travel services, the Acti-Vision Window can be controlled by the passenger through a transparent touchscreen incorporated into the glazing, or by the crew through the flight attendant panel.