Smart glass = smarter car sunroof

Summary:When I used to commute from New Jersey to Long Island several times every week (I know, I know, the greentech writer should not admit this), I found myself driving into the sun on both the outbound and return trip. In the summer months.

When I used to commute from New Jersey to Long Island several times every week (I know, I know, the greentech writer should not admit this), I found myself driving into the sun on both the outbound and return trip. In the summer months. My sun visor got a mega-workout. I would also crank the windows up and down while crawling in traffic (darn Yankees), because I am not all the fond of air-conditioning.

I found myself recalling these measures during my recent interview with Joseph Harary, president and CEO of Research Frontiers, a publicly traded maker of smart glass technologies based in Woodbury, N.Y. As you might expect, this company's pitch is that its dynamic smart glass and light-control technology -- called SPD-Smart -- can help control glare and solar heat. There are many potential target uses, such as plane windows, and many potential applications within architectural settings, such as daylight harvesting. Under that scenario, the glass turns from clear to dark to give the interior of a building as much or as little natural daylight as it needs.

"You can use it to derive more heat in the winter, and block the heat in the summer," Harary says.

Another cool application for the technology -- which is protected by around 500 patents -- lies in automobile design. That's the focus of a new relationship disclosed in February 2011 between Research Frontiers and Daimler AG. Under that deal, the SPD-Smart light-control technology will be used for the glass roof of its Mercedes-Benz SLK. The roof can tint from clear to dark by pressing a button. What changes is actually a film manufactured by Hitachi Chemical Co. under a license with Research Frontiers. The video below demonstrates what the glass does.

<iframe width="440" height="290" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/jD1FII3kA_I" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

One of the things that makes Research Frontiers especially interesting among the smart glass players isn't just the fact that there is $80 million in research and development behind this technology. It's the fact that the company actually is publicly traded, which suggests a level of operational maturity not necessarily shared by the other start-ups targeting this space.

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Topics: Patents, Legal, Start-Ups

About

Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist specializing in transformative technology and innovation. Her articles have appeared in Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, The International Herald Tribune and The New York Times. In a past corporate life, Heather was editor of Computer Reseller News. She started her journalism lif... Full Bio

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