Glass

Growing panes: The rise of smart glass and how it could kill off your curtains

Smart ovens are now a thing, as are intelligent beds, connected doorbells, and internet-enabled fridges. Everything, it seems, is now “smart” and “connected” — and soon the windows in your home or office could be hit with the smart stick too.

There has been a flurry of activity in the smart glass realm over the past few months, and two Californian companies in particular are knuckling down to bring self-tinting windows to companies and residencies en masse.

Last week, San Francisco-based Kinestral Technologies (“Kinestral”) announced the inaugural installation of its Halio electrochromic smart-tinting glass at the San Francisco offices of Alexandria Real Estate Equities, a real estate investment trust. Halio is touted as “the most responsive smart-tinting glass on the market,” according to the company’s own marketing blurb, with an innate ability to switch from clear to dark in seconds, delivering its darkest tint in less than 3 minutes.

It basically negates the need for blinds or curtains, as the glass automatically dims and brightens to suit the outdoors light conditions — this is useful in controlling a room’s ambience and temperature, while also reducing a building’s energy needs. Users can also manually control the tint settings through wall switches, mobile apps, and if recent tests go according to plan, your voice. Yes, Kinestral wants to integrate Amazon’s Alexa voice-activated technology into its smart windows.

The glass isn’t designed purely for use on exterior facades, though. It can be used anywhere inside a building so that light from one room can travel through to other rooms when required, or be (partially) blocked if the situation requires it. For example, Kinestral replaced the existing glass in a central skylight above the employee lounge at Alexandria’s San Francisco hub, while Halio was also added to two meeting rooms, creating glass walls that served as opaque partitions when needed — to improve the clarity of a wall-mounted LCD TV, for example, or simply to create more privacy. The windows can be undimmed whenever light or visibility is needed.

Above: Alexandria Smart Glass Installation

“We see applications for Kinestral’s Halio smart-tinting glass in both interior and exterior glazing locations,” explained Greg Gehlen, senior vice president of construction and development at Alexandria. “In exterior locations, the glass can limit glare in the dark state without blinds while allowing clear vision in the clear state. In interior locations, we are using this for variable privacy in conference rooms.”

Kinestral has raised almost $100 million in funding since its inception back in 2010, the biggest chunk of which came via a $65 million round just a few months back. But seven years is a long time from inception to product launch, so what’s been going on behind the scenes?

“Our founders were determined to solve the challenges of electrochromic glass,” explained Craig Henricksen, marketing VP at Kinestral, in an interview with VentureBeat. “They were not going to go out with a product that was only incrementally better. Solving the color issues, the tinting speed, and uniformity during tinting was extremely important to them. It took dozens of scientists to solve the problems, and fine-tune the chemistry and processes to make a product viable.”

And so after years of development and iteration, over the past couple of years Kinestral has built a production facility in Hayward, California, while back in March Kinestral inked a $100 million deal with Foxconn subsidiary G-Tech Optoelectronics Corporation (GTOC) to convert an existing LCD touch panel manufacturing facility in Taiwan to produce Halio at scale.

Also based out of California is a more established smart glass player called View, which was founded in 2007 and has raised a gargantuan $550 million in funding across a number of big rounds, including $100 million back in February.

View’s glass-tinting smarts adopts a model-based control system that uses algorithms to automatically adjust tint levels based on a number of factors, including a building’s location, design, layout, orientation, time of day, and even the weather conditions outside, explained Erich Klawuhn, View’s VP of product, in an interview with VentureBeat. “Light sensors and real-time weather feeds inform the system of current and upcoming weather conditions, including cloud cover, and adjusts the tint levels accordingly,” he said. “Via a small electrical voltage, View Dynamic Glass transitions seamlessly between multiple tint states either automatically or by personal preferences programmed through tablet or smartphone apps.”

View says that over the past year it has doubled the number of installations of its electrochromic Dynamic Glass, which is made of the same kind of material as Kinestral’s. View now counts more than 300 complete commercial installations with another 150 in the works, and last month it was enlisted to retrofit Netflix’s new Los Gatos offices with self-tinting glass.

“Our mission is to create delightful human environments, free of glare and unwanted heat,” added Klawuhn. “By providing the right amount of natural light and optimizing the views of nature, View Dynamic Glass enhances the productivity and wellness of building occupants, as well as providing sustainability for the planet.”

Through the looking glass

The concept behind smart glass is nothing new, and there have been various versions of the technology over the years, some less smart than others. Thermochromic glass essentially uses the heat from sunlight to tint the windows — the hotter it is, the darker the room becomes, allowing properties to regulate their own heat. But everything is automatic and there is no manual control.

Then there are liquid crystal windows, which use technology similar to that found in many digital wristwatches. A thin layer of liquid crystals is positioned in between two transparent electrical conductors on plastic films, which in turn is sandwiched between two layers of glass. The collective term for this kind of technology is PDLC, or “polymer dispersed liquid crystal,” and it uses electrical voltage to control the transparency — however, a constant power supply is required for completely transparency, else the glass turns translucent. The level of translucence depends on the voltage applied, and the technology is largely used to enhance privacy indoors, for example in conference rooms or on shower doors.

Then there’s…

New Process Will Allow You to 3D Print Glass on Demand

The surge in affordable 3D printing in recent years has allowed hobbyists to craft everything from customized toys to hair to prosthetic duck feet, with the only limit being the creator’s imagination. Now, researchers in Germany are close to achieving a technique that could revolutionize both 3D applications and glassmaking by giving us the power to 3D print glass.

In a study published in Nature this week, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) investigator Dr. Bastian Rapp presented a way of manufacturing a “liquid glass” that can be manipulated with 3D printing software and then heated until it’s a useful solid. (Normal glass consists of melted sand made from sheets in molten tin vats.) By making the glass dispensable through 3D printing nozzles, Rapp believes we’ll soon be able to 3D print glass that’s of sufficient quality for lenses, mirrors, and even drinking cups.

Previous attempts to conceive of a new way of glass production via 3D printers haven’t resulted in glass smooth enough for…

Glass-Bottomed “Sky Pool” in Houston Hangs 500 Feet Above Street Level

The infinity pool gracing the top of Market Square Tower in Houston, Texas is a great place for residents to unwind … unless they’re afraid of heights, in which case the clear-bottomed pool jutting out from the top of the high-rise is anything but relaxing. The pool is situated 500 feet above the streets of downtown, and all swimmers need to do to soak in the views is look down.

As Travel + Leisure reports, the glass-bottomed pool became the highest…

Glass-Printed Photos from Fracture Are an Easy Way to Make Your Room All Nice and Pretty

Recently, I was contacted by a company called Fracture, which is having a spring cleaning sale through March 31st [see clearance code below to save 20%], and asked if I would order from their website and write a review about their product. It went something like this:

“Hey, Cori- would you be interested in ordering some free stuff and then writing-“

“YES.”

“Ok, cool- so here’s a $200 gift code. Go ahead and choose what you’d like, order it, and then we can-“

“ORDER COMPLETED.”

I mean…who could say no to that? Anyway…I visited the website to take a look around, because I’d honestly never heard of Fracture before.

They’re basically an all-in-one frame and photo that’s printed on glass and has a built-in mounting system.

If you’re into home decor, like sleek, clean designs, and/or you’re an avid photo hanger, I’d recommend at least checking them out. According to their website,

“Fracture was founded around a simple idea: there should be a better way to print and display your photos. Fractures are different from traditional pictures and frames. Instead of printing on paper, we print directly on glass. Instead of separating the picture, frame, and mount, a Fracture combines all three into a beautiful, lasting, final product.

We make every Fracture by hand, in Gainesville, FL. We check every image for quality, and send them to you in our safe, environmentally-friendly packaging. Every Fracture comes with a Happiness Guarantee and Lifetime Warranty.”

I do have to admit, the ordering process really is simple. Aside from my inability to make a decision when buying shiny new pretties, I had minimal issues. Due to that plague of indecisiveness, I opted to order prints from their art store rather than uploading my own photos – though I did play around with their image editor while considering what I wanted.

When uploading your photos, there is an editing tool to help you crop, zoom, and resize your image to fit the desired frame, be it a portrait or landscape rectangle, or a perfect square. You can also select from several colors to create a border, switch your photo to grayscale, or change frame sizes, all within the same editing window.

The sizing and prices are as follows:

Rectangles:

Small (6.4″ x 4.8″) = $18
Medium (9.6″ x 7.2″) = $40
Classic (14.4″ x 10.8″) = $65
Large (20.8″ x 15.6″) = $85
Extra Large (28.8″ x 21.6″) = $125

Squares:

Small (5″ x 5″) = $15
Medium (11″ x 11″) = $55
Large (23″ x 23″) = $115

After playing around with sizing and editing my own rando photos that I had no intention of ordering, I visited the Fracture Art Store to check out their print selection – because, aside from uploading your own photos, they have a gallery of their own images you can choose from as well. I immediately saw some that I wanted. It was hard to choose, so that’s a good sign – however, I’ve already told you I don’t do well with decisions…but never mind that – the point is, there’s a nice selection of fine art, illustrations, photography, or famous historical…