Anybody who has had to deal with crazy drivers in rush hour traffic has likely dreamed of mounting Star Wars-style laser cannons on the hood. So, it immediately caught our attention when we discovered that Tesla last week won a patent to do precisely that.
But, as our friends at Electrek discovered, those lasers are actually aimed back towards the driver and, according to the Tesla patent, are meant to serve as a replacement for conventional windshield wipers.
Now, getting rid of conventional wipers is another common wish. They’re awkward, often noisy, and frequently don’t work very well. But, let’s see … replace wipers by aiming lasers back towards the driver? What could go wrong with that?
According to Tesla it has developed a “cleaning system for a vehicle (which) includes a beam optics assembly that emits a laser beam to irradiate a region on a glass article of the vehicle, debris detection circuitry that detects debris accumulated over the region, and control circuitry.”
Taking aim at debris
When the system detects “debris” it calculates how much to blast it with the laser. And, should you be worried about the beam continuing through the windshield and into the eyes of driver and passengers, Tesla’s patent filing assures us that, “the exposure level is controlled based on pulsing the laser beam at a calibrated rate that limits penetration of the laser beam to a depth that is less than a thickness of the glass article, and removes the debris accumulated over the region on the glass article using the laser beam.”
This system actually is the second wiper alternative that Tesla has patented. It previously came up with a technology using magnets that could run a single, squeegee-like blade across a vehicle’s windshield.
So far, there is no indication that Tesla actually plans to put either of these technologies into production. But even if they don’t prove useful on the road, they could also show up to clean the solar roof technology developed by Tesla’s Solar City subsidiary.
A critical safety device
Wipers were one of the world’s first automotive options and remain one of the most critical among the safety gear on even the most modern automobiles. But until recently, little had changed in more than a century for the humble devices.
Oh, that’s not entirely true. Throughout the decades, wipers have gotten bigger. Manufacturers long ago migrated from mechanical, hand-operated wipers to electric drive, more recently making multi-speed and intermittent wipers all but ubiquitous. But several manufacturers are looking for truly high-tech alternatives that could make tomorrow’s wipers some of the most sophisticated devices on your car.
Mercedes-Benz took a small step forward when it introduced its new Magic Vision Control system, spraying washer fluid from the wipers directly onto the windshield.
But McLaren wants to take things significantly further, using what has been described as “an ultrasonic transducer in the corner of the windscreen” that would essentially cause water or snow to just flow right off the windshield.
The military gets there first
Apparently, the Air Force has already come up with a similar concept, some of its fighters using high-frequency sound waves to create, in effect, a force field that doesn’t let anything adhere to the glass.
Pininfarina has an alternate idea. It has toyed with using a wiper-less system, dubbed Hidra, that coats the outer glass with a chemical compound with hydrophobic properties that repel 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.
All great ideas, but, with the exception of the Air Force system, none has yet proved practical. We’ll have to see if Tesla’s laser cannon approach proves more effective — and can avoid frying occupants’ eyeballs.