This is Us

It’s no secret that the architectural glass industry has been a consistent and long-term adaptor of much of the new technology developed for automotive glass. Tinted glass, for example, was originally developed for automobiles. The rotatable magnetron, which was originally used to place coatings on glass, was developed by an auto glass fabrication company from Michigan. Today, its successor technology is used to provide a number of different coatings, including low-E coatings. But these inventions pale in comparison to what is coming now. Let me explain.

Apple, yes the Apple of iMacs, iPads and iPhones, filed a patent application in late August that will identify cracks or other imperfections in windshield glass and provide notification of such.

Most of us in the industry know that the glass in many Apple products includes an electrically conductive film. That film is able to detect even the weakest of electrical impulses—including those from our hands—making it interactive and communicative. Now it looks like Apple wants to use a similar technology for windshields. According to the pending patent, a signal will be sent from the film via “terminals formed from elongated strips of metal that may be coupled to the edges of one or more conductive layers.”

This announcement was met with a collective yawn from most of the automotive aficionados. After all, what is the glass going to tell you that you don’t already know? You can see most chips and cracks. Proponents were quick to point out that the windshields of driverless cars won’t necessarily receive the scrutiny that cars with drivers do. In addition, being aware of microscopic failures or imperfections early would be helpful as well.

That type of analysis is shortsighted, I think, for two additional reasons. The first has to do with the disposition of the information. Apple will be able to process the information and provide it to users who want it. Got a crack in your windshield? Insurance companies will want to know. So will installation companies. CarMax will want to track it. The sale of that information (something companies like Apple are very good at) then becomes sellable itself.

The bigger reason lies in the architectural glass industry. Unlike the windshield on a car, there are lots of fissures, cracks and imperfections that are not easily visible to the humans who live or work in those buildings. It’s too high up or hidden by the interior.

And it won’t be too long before Apple moves from monitoring breakage to monitoring a variety of other characteristics, such as shading, U-values, condensation, energy efficiency and more.

And think of the services contracts. Once the glass detects itself compromised, it can notify insurers, a service glass company of choice (with complete and accurate info about the type of break, and where it is) as well as the building owner. Field audits of energy-efficiency, like the ones we expect in New York City and other major metro areas, will be able to be conducted electronically.

Far-fetched? I don’t think so. It’s coming. We have met the future and it is us.