If you’ve ever had to scrape the snow and ice off your windshield on a cold winter morn – and it seems like everyone outside Southern California has faced that problem this year, you may want to root for a small Detroit start-up that thinks it has a better idea.
Windshield wipers are one of those automotive components most of don’t think much about – until we need them. And when they’re covered with ice that we have to crack off, Motor City Wiper’s solution could be a godsend. They actually smack themselves against your windshield to break off the icy crust without having to grab them manually.
Could these be the next big breakthrough after the development of the intermittent windshield wiper? The little Detroit firm is hoping so and is hunting around for both financial support and customers – though it reportedly hasn’t generated a lot of interest from automotive manufacturers. That’s no surprise, as it took years for Robert Kearns, the inventor who came up with the most effective intermittent wiper system to see his product gain traction.
And even then, Kearns discovered that a number of makers had simply ignored his patent and essentially stole his idea. He wound up having to take a number of them to court before reaping the benefits, ultimately making his case before the U.S. Supreme Court before getting settlements from Ford, Chrysler and others.
In its current prototype form, the Motor City Wiper concept is operated by a pair of buttons near the ignition. The system automatically raises the wipers and thwacks them down to break off the ice and snow that can leave messy streaks.
The Detroit firm isn’t the only one looking to improve on the time-tested windshield wiper. Several makers have launched their own improvements of late. There’s Mercedes-Benz, for one, its Magic Vision Control system introduced on the latest version of the SL sports car. That system eliminates the normally messy windshield wiper sprayer, fluid instead flowing out of the wipers directly onto the windshield.
But even the best modern wiper designs can reach their limits in a heavy rain or snowstorm. They can simply be overwhelmed, smearing rather than clearing, the windshield. And there’s always that annoying flip-flop sound that leads many motorists to squint through wet windows until there’s no alternative but flipping the wipers on.
Could there be an alternative way to keep rain, snow – even mud and bugs – off your windshield? Apparently, the Air Force has already come up with one that uses high-frequency sound waves to create, in effect, a force field that doesn’t let anything adhere to the glass.
“It took a lot of effort to get this out of a source in the military. I asked why you don’t see wipers on some aircraft on when they are coming in at very low levels for landing,” Frank Stephenson, the head of design for Britain’s McLaren, told London’s Sunday Times. “I was told that it’s not a coating on the surface but a high-frequency electronic system that never fails and is constantly active. Nothing will attach to the windscreen.” One ultrasonics professor said he thinks this means attaching “an ultrasonic transducer in the corner of the windscreen.”
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The approach, if feasible on the road as well as in the air, would likely be expensive at first, though the cost could come down if it can translate into a mass-market concept. It potentially would eliminate not just the windshield wiper, but the mileage-robbing aerodynamic drag today’s devices cause. And there’d be one less stalk on your steering wheel to manage.
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But while McLaren is working on its own ultrasonic wiper system, the Italian design house Pininfarina is taking another approach with its wiper-less Hidra concept vehicle. The coupe-like concept vehicle relies on both aerodynamic design to minimize what actually comes close to the windshield – and a special coating designed to keep things from sticking if they do come into contact with the glass.
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The outer layer of the coating has what scientists called hydrophobic properties. It actually repels water. A second, nano layer will “push” dirt off to the sides, while a third layer essentially helps clean off grime. An additional, electrically conductive layer, provides the power needed to make it all work.
Pininfarina designers claim the technology behind the Hidra wiper-less windshield could prove reasonably cost-competitive and could wind up in production in a few years, marking the most significant improvement in rain gear since the first hand-operated wipers were introduced more than a century ago.