Image credit: SageGlass
Technology advancements are fueling the adoption of smart glass. Once used exclusively on the outside of office buildings, smart glass installations are moving inside and into transportation systems. Smart glass, also called switchable or dynamic glass, can reduce energy costs, make spaces more private, and are easier to clean and maintain. Remote controls and integration with smart building systems make smart glass even more appealing as sustainability initiatives increase.
Smart glass comes in several forms but they all work in a similar fashion. Glass with polymer dispersed liquid crystal (PDLC), suspended particle device (SPD), and electrochromic device (ECD) technology includes a thin film interlayer sandwiched between two or more sheets of transparent materials. When electrodes connected to the middle layer are charged, the particles or molecules in the middle layer align, resulting in transparency. In some cases, existing glass can be retrofitted by installing a thin film on the glass and connecting it to an electrical device.
Companies focus on thermal management, energy efficiency, and privacy by controlling how the voltage, light, and heat affect the glass. This allows the glass to shift dynamically between transparent and opaque for different applications. As an outside facing window, smart glass can adapt the tinting or transparency level based on natural light. Inside a building, smart glass can create curtain walls and offer privacy for hospital or conference rooms.
Smart glass deployments can be controlled by traditional wall switches, but manufacturers have also developed electronic panels and mobile apps that allow users to establish automatic settings, adjust tint levels and zones within a building, and create specific lighting effects, such as tinted “blinds” for privacy.
Minnesota-based SageGlass has an intelligent control system that uses sensors to dynamically adjust the level of transparency based on existing light conditions. The SageGlass system can be adjusted via a wall panel, voice control device, and mobile app. It can be integrated in the smart building system, which enables control through timers, light and motion sensors, lighting controls, and thermostats. Glass can be zoned for more flexibility or customization.
Sustainability Drives Adoption
Used on the outside of a building, smart glass can improve energy efficiency and help office buildings earn LEED certification. SageGlass products block more than 90 percent of solar heat in the summer. Adjusting it to block only 60 percent during the winter allows a building to harness solar heat to warm office space. Over the life of a building that translates to long-term operating cost savings, reducing energy loads up to 20 percent and peak energy demand up to 26 percent.
In the era of COVID-19, smart glass is appealing for hospitals and medical clinics because it is easy to clean. Rather than installing drapes, curtains, or blinds, hospitals can use dynamic frosted or tinted glass for patient privacy. Fabric harbors bacteria and is more labor-intensive to clean, unlike glass which also provides a level of soundproofing. The flexibility also allows staff to view patients without entering the room or curtained area, decreasing patient disruptions and potential contamination.
Switchable glass manufacturer Gauzy, with offices in Tel Aviv and Plano, TX, worked with the Dana-Dwek Children’s Hospital in Tel Aviv to create private spaces with natural light and reduced sound interruptions, which lead to improved recovery for patients.
On the Road with Smart Glass
Smart glass is also finding use in cars and trains. Vision Systems, based in Santee, CA, is testing dynamic glass on trains in Dubai. The company developed a multi-zone dimmable window, a dimmable divider with an integrated information display, and a glass partition that can play videos. The windows have a transparent touch panel so passengers can adjust the level of transparency. When opaque, the windows can display travel or promotional information.
Image credit: Vision Systems
Vision Systems has dimmable window technology for aircraft, buses and cars, too. Drivers can tint sunroof windows or passenger windows to reduce glare, heat, and light exposure. The outside of the windows, when darkened, can display ads or other messages. On airplanes, the technology is already being used to reduce glare in the cockpit; now the company is making smart panels that can be installed between seats to reduce the spread of germs. Similar panels are designed to protect bus drivers.