Smart glass technology allows you to control the amount of light that passes through your glass balustrades, partitions and shower screens. In other words, you can make your glass transparent, translucent or opaque on command. It is a minimalistic way of providing privacy to a space, allowing you to forego blinds and curtains.
Although smart glass has been around for a few years now, there’s still a considerable amount of scepticism surrounding it. Many consumers have voiced their concerns about the reliability of the product. For example, if it malfunctions, how will it affect the privacy of your home? What are the safety risks involved?
To help answer these questions, we’re going to take a look at how smart glass is made, how it works and its most common applications.
How is it made?
Most smart glass products are made up of three different types of layers: sheets of glass, conductive interlayers, and a film of polymer-dispersed liquid crystal (PDLC).
Two layers of glass are placed on the outer surface of the laminate. On the inner sides of these glass layers, an indium tin oxide (ITO) coating is applied. This ITO coating is conductive and will allow you to run an electric current through the laminate. Finally, a PDLC film is sandwiched between the two layers of coated glass. As its name suggests, PDLC film contains liquid crystals that give the material its opaqueness.
Depending on what is required, other layers might be added to the laminate. For example, if the client wants the glass to be tinted and UV resistant, the PDLC film might be replaced with a suspended particle device film (SPD). You’ll often see SPD smart glass used in cars, public transportation and skylights. For advertising purposes, the film might even be customised to show different patterns and/or images.
How does it work?
PDLC film consists of randomly-oriented liquid crystals that scatter any light that passes through them. This is what makes the material opaque. However, when you run an electric current through the film via the ITO coating, the liquid crystals will polarise (orient towards a single direction). This polarisation allows light to fully pass through the film and, therefore, allowing you to see through the material.
You turn the electric current on and off whether you want with a switch or a button and the change in transparency happens instantaneously. So, if you want to close off an area of your home or office, you’re only a push of a button away from doing so.
One of the main issues that concern customers is the idea of the smart glass ‘turning off’ accidentally and compromising their privacy. This concern, however, is largely due to a lack of understanding of the product.
As suggested above, the natural state of the laminate is opaque. It’s only transparent when there’s an electric current running through the ITO coating. This means that if the product malfunctions and the electric current stops, the glass will simply revert to its natural opaque state. You won’t have to worry about your privacy being compromised.
Another concern involves the perceived safety issues surrounding the use of electricity. Though the ITO coating is conductive, the glass and the PDLC layer itself are poor conductors of electricity. This means you won’t have to worry about hurting yourself by touching the glass.
For what it’s worth, glass can be a conductor, but only in extremely high temperatures.
How is it used?
- Office partitions
Glass partitions are great for open-plan spaces. It allows more natural light to spread throughout the area, creating a feeling of spaciousness. It can also make you feel more connected to your surroundings and your colleagues.
However, there will inevitably come a time when you need a little bit of privacy. Yes, you can install blinds, but that’ll just take away the minimalistic vibe that glass provides. With smart glass, you’ll be able to retain that streamlined look while having the option to turn a room into a private space.
In most hospitals, traditional drapery and curtains are often used for patient privacy. They’re relatively cheap and they get the job done. However, they do come with a few problems. First, research has found that the material that those curtains are made of are prone to bacteria build up. Secondly, they don’t offer sound proofing, which means the patient can get disturbed if there happens to be noise outside.
With smart glass, health care professionals won’t have to worry about cleaning and disinfecting a set of curtains. They can just sanitise the glass and they’ll be good to go. Additionally, it allows them to quickly check on patients without making too much noise.
- Residential homes
If you choose to make your smart glass resistant to infrared light, it can also help you lower your HVAC costs while you’re at home. IR resistant glass will be able to reduce the amount of heat that enters your home during the summer months. This means you won’t have to use your A/C as often.
Conversely, once winter comes around, you can switch off the IR resistant film of the smart glass and allow that heat to come in.
Hopefully, this gave you a better understanding of smart glass technology. If you feel that your home or your place of business can benefit from this, make sure you consult your local glass supplier. They should be able to advise you on what smart glass product would be most suitable for your needs.