General Motors Is Designing a Self-Cleaning Display for Cars

GM comes up with brilliant idea for car displays 6 photos
Photo: Bogdan Popa/autoevolution
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General Motors has found a clever way to help us keep the displays in our cars completely clean, with new technology patented by the company allowing for the whole thing without drivers moving a single finger.
In plain English, the American carmaker has created a self-cleaning display that uses an innovative approach whose purpose is to help eliminate fingerprints, oil residues, and other debris from the surface of the screen.

The patent is called “self-cleaning system for displays using light emitting diodes emitting invisible violet light”, and it describes an approach that might sound complicated at first, but is actually based on a very simple concept. In addition to the red, green, and blue LEDs that are embedded into screens, General Motors proposes the installation of a fourth LED, that would produce violet light.

The choice is not surprising. Violet light can be used to reproduce the ultraviolet radiation found in sunlight, which cannot be observed by the human eye.

If you’re familiar with photocatalysis, you can probably figure out already where this is going. General Motors explains that displays would be fitted with a photocatalytic coating that includes a photocatalyst integrated into a transparent layer. This configuration wouldn't make GM's displays any different, aesthetically speaking, from a regular screen.

A photocatalyst, such as the one embedded into the screen coating, is a material whose main role is to absorb light and then start a chemical reaction with the addition of other elements. General Motors says its concept can use different approaches, such as the integration of an oxide of metal into the photocatalyst, to produce the chemical reactions right on the surface of the coating.

Using water molecules in the air, the coating can eventually be cleaned, therefore removing things like fingerprints, dust, and dirt.

The dedicated violet LED allows the self-cleaning system to work on demand regardless of the time of day. The cleaning can also be started at night, when reproducing the ultraviolet light would normally be impossible.

Despite the involved chemical reactions, which could make understanding how the system works more difficult, anyone should be able to see the benefits of the feature. Removing the fingerprints and dust from a display currently requires manual cleaning, something that many people completely ignore, but the new technology would allow the automatic removal at a certain pre-defined interval.

On the other hand, General Motors’ idea is still in the patent stage, so while I’d love to see this technology making its way to the mass production phase, there’s no guarantee this would happen, especially because a self-cleaning system would undoubtedly be a costly feature many might not be willing to pay for. After all, innovative technology comes with a hefty price tag.
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 Download: GM's new patent for self-cleaning displays (PDF)

About the author: Bogdan Popa
Bogdan Popa profile photo

Bogdan keeps an eye on how technology is taking over the car world. His long-term goals are buying an 18-wheeler because he needs more space for his kid’s toys, and convincing Google and Apple that Android Auto and CarPlay deserve at least as much attention as their phones.
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