What does the future hold for windows? As various types of technology converge and are applied to the humble pane of glass (and its frame, of course), the future possibilities are quite fascinating. Smart windows, self-tinting glass, remote control, and power generation are among the options on the table – and knowing where windows are headed could provide your business with the competitive edge.

Windows and doors have been around for a long time, with the earliest being simple openings in the roof which made building interiors less gloomy (as far back as 1300BC).

As far as research can tell, glass was first used as long ago as 100BC, but because the material was expensive and difficult to work, it was only by around the 17th century in England that glass started making its way into the equation for domestic houses. Before, windows may have been covered with animal hides or bits of wood at night or in inclement weather, while buildings of note – like churches and cathedrals – were treated to expensive glass, lead and timber units.

We’re a long way away from that fascinating history, although what can be taken from the progression is that with the application of technology for manufacturing glass and frames, the possibilities quickly expanded. Plate glass, for example, allows far bigger and stronger fenestration, something architects were quick to adopt for more striking designs bringing exterior and interior aspects closer together.

An exciting future builds on a fascinating past

Today, manufacturers have a range of exciting emerging options, such as switchable smart glass. In this day and age, we’re putting ‘smart’ technology into an array or sometimes rather everyday objects. Fridges, coffee pots, doorbells, beds, toilets, egg trays and even toothbrushes (who knew you needed Artificial Intelligence powering your dental hygiene). It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that windows are among the candidates for improvement.

Switchable smart glass has at its core a panel of IGU double glazed electrochromic glass. It’s filled with a gas which responds to the passage of electricity through it; when charged, the gas is clear. At the flick of a switch, it’s dark for privacy glass. Or it could be ‘passive’ in much the same way as photochromic sunglasses, going from translucent to dark depending on prevailing ambient light conditions. Check out SageGlass as an example; not only are there photochromic options, but thermochromic too – in countries where it gets hot, windows which respond accordingly can help moderate the temperature.

Windows are valued for letting the sunshine in, but do they hold the potential for capturing those rays and turning them into electricity? Physee is a company that thinks so. It is developing a ‘Power Window’ to do just that; closer to home, Australia’s Centre for Industrial and Scientific Research (CSIRO) notes that these windowpanes could be a game changer.

In a world where attention to environmental matters and green buildings has never been higher, the potential for large glazed areas is obvious. The idea isn’t limited to new builds, either, as existing windows may be fitted with a film containing the necessary properties for power generation.

In keeping with the smart theme and potentially buying into the everyday narcissism of social media and obsession with screens, work is being done on developing windows and mirrors with smart displays. These could be ‘TV’ projections, incorporate laser displays and include touch screen interactions useful in classrooms and boardrooms. Outside, interactive glass screens with augmented reality could add new dimensions to zoos, nature parks, playgrounds, sports fixtures and more. It’s not even a new idea: Corning, famous for Gorilla Glass, offers a video from 2012 showing the potential.

It doesn’t have to be electronic to represent innovation. Double glazed panels to date have air sandwiched between the panes; suck that out for Vacuum Insulated Glazing (VIG) units, and you have a barrier in the ‘wind eye’ which goes far beyond anything the Old Norsemen could have imagined.

Create your advantage

All this may seem a little overwhelming, as the inevitable (and important) question is this: how does this impact on your production line? The answer is a reassuring one, because while incorporating innovative panes into your manufacturing processes might require some retooling or the setup of new production lines, the glass units are generally supplied by glass companies, along with the designs for the profiles and other hardware.

In other words, when you’re equipped with flexible software controlling the estimating and manufacturing process, the overhead for introducing innovative new products isn’t necessarily substantial. Instead, it’s more a question of tracking innovation, understanding your customers and introducing the emerging products your customers might like – and in so doing, you can create a competitive advantage and carve out your very own niche.

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