Like it or not, touchscreens that replace physical buttons in cars aren’t going away any time soon. In fact, one day your vehicle’s entire dashboard will probably be one big screen covered in weeks’ worth of greasy fingerprints. To make them less of an annoyance, instead of having to wipe them clean with some occasional sleeve polishing, General Motors has patented a new screen design allowing touchscreens to erase fingerprints all by themselves.
If your mind immediately imagines this patent detailing a robot arm holding a microfiber cloth that extends from a car’s dashboard and gets to work, or even tiny wipers that spring to life after every touchscreen interaction like the ones that clean your windshield, you’re way off. What GM has come up with is far more clever and unobtrusive.
In addition to red, green, and blue pixels, the upgraded screens would introduce an additional violet pixel that, similar to ultraviolet light, would be invisible to the human eye so as not to affect the colors and images seen on the screen. The touchscreen would also use a similarly invisible photocatalyst screen coating designed to absorb certain wavelengths of light in order to produce a chemical reaction. GM’s patent suggests the use of a metal-oxide-based photocatalyst that would react to the ultraviolet radiation in sunlight, but since many cars use window tinting to keep the interiors dark and cool, the photocatalyst’s reaction would instead be initiated by the violet pixels.
At night, when the car is sitting unused in the dark, or even during a cleaning cycle manually started by the driver in the day, the violet pixels would turn on and activate the photocatalyst in the screen coating which would start a chemical reaction that uses moisture in the air to break down the organic materials left behind in fingerprints, as well as oil residue and grease from the fast food we all guiltily gulp down in the car sometimes.
When the reaction stops and everything dries out, those greasy smears and fingerprints will just disappear like dust in the wind, leaving clean screens ready to be messed up once again with the remnants of the morning’s Egg McMuffin.
So when will self-cleaning touchscreens start showing up as an option on GM’s vehicles? Maybe in a few years’ time, or maybe never. For now, the technology is just at the patent state, and GM hasn’t made any announcements as to whether it plans to pursue the technology as an actual feature in future vehicles, or if it’s going to just sit on the patent so other automakers don’t offer it either. Hopefully, it does move ahead with the idea because self-cleaning touchscreens would be a welcome upgrade on so many devices, not just cars.