What Are Laser Beam Wipers and Will They Work?
The motoring industry is by its very nature fast paced.
New technology continually alters our perceptions and expectations of what can be achieved on four wheels. Yet while a great many car features have evolved - some beyond recognition - others have remained largely untouched.
Take windscreen wipers as a case in point, something few of us really give much thought. After all, how could you enhance such a basic if essential mechanism? The answer, apparently, lies in the introduction of lasers.
Believe it or not, that’s exactly what Tesla are proposing in a typically ambitious project.
This past month it’s come to light that the California based automakers filed a fascinating patent back in May. Only now have its contents been made public and they make for essential reading.
The title is somewhat technical but it’s the idea that most will find hard to comprehend.
‘Pulsed Laser Cleaning of Debris Accumulated on Glass Articles in Vehicles and Photovoltaic Assemblies’ hardly rolls off the tongue. In short though, it describes a process whereby debris which obscures views will be zapped courtesy of planted laser beams.
A cleaning system with a difference, this idea could prove either revolutionary or ridiculous. Tesla have made a habit of falling into both camps.
So how exactly will this sci-fi like scene play out in our own, personal movies?
Beam Optics Assembly
According to the patent it will rely on image processing and a handful of sensors placed in and around the vehicle. This collection has been dubbed the Beam Optics Assembly.
A detection circuity will send the appropriate messages, prompting the system to fire a beam that proceeds to remove the likes of dirt, droppings, grime and more. No word yet on parking tickets…
The expectation is this same process can be repeated in other areas where good vision is required – side and rear-view windows, along with in-vehicle camera lenses for instance. A quick and chemical free solution it could re-imagine windscreen wipers, IF they pull it off.
While Elon Musk will surely front any big reveal, this is in fact the brainchild of one Phiroze Dalal. If you ever wondered what a ‘Scientific and Industrial Imaging Specialist’ does wonder no more.
The Australian is responsible for the patent itself and goes out of his way to allay what are sure to be initial concerns.
Of the maiden technology he writes, ‘The cleaning apparatus provides a fast, robust, and chemical-free solution to clean different glass articles in vehicles and solar photovoltaic facilities. The solution can be integrated with other cleaning solutions that use wipers, water, or air sprays or chemical solutions to clean glass articles.'
The lasers - we’re assured - will be intelligent enough to determine what does and does not need cleaning. The likes of car logos and stickers will be safe, while hanging clothes and sun visors will also be overlooked.
So advanced is the mooted technology it could be used to clean solar panels also, known to take an almighty battering due to their placement atop electric vehicles.
But what of the occupants themselves? Could they ever be truly safe in the vicinity of laser beams? It would seem so.
Exposure levels will be considered, with pulses to ensure the disastrous never happens. Calibration would restrict the penetration of the laser beam to a certain depth, one well below the thickness of any windscreen glass.
Such assurances haven’t quietened loudening safety concerns.
There is, for example, no detail on whether vision would be impaired not by debris but the very lasers attempting to remove it. This would obviously defeat the purpose of the enterprise and is up to now an oversight on the manufacturers’ part.
There is also next-to-no information on how the technology would tackle a rainstorm.
That said there’s no guarantee the as yet untitled cleaning apparatus, will see the light of day. Filing a patent is of course very different to announcing a product and given recent events Tesla would be forgiven for dialling down the hyperbole with which their so synonymous.
The unveiling of the highly anticipated Cybertruck made headlines for all the wrong reasons. What’s been called a Meme-tastic clip saw Musk invite designer Franz von Holzhausen to break an impenetrable window, which he duly did.
The company also have a history of promising the impossible and finding it exactly that. Just days before the Cybertruck debacle the SpaceX Star ship rocket exploded during pressure testing. Issues with their Smart Summon app meanwhile, which we have written about previously, has also drawn fierce criticism.
Perhaps this is why they remain tight-lipped about laser beam wipers, with no official comment as of December. At the very least however this patent is a glimpse into the mindset of their engineering wizards and a future they hope to facilitate. One day.