GM Patents See-Through Windshield Pillars for Better Visibility

A new patent filing shows General Motors is developing a new design many of us have long pondered about: a car with transparent A-pillars that expand your field of view out of the windshield. GM’s filing claims the design is intended mostly to improve driver awareness during left-handed turns, without jeopardizing the safety of the vehicle’s crash structure. 

The A-pillar, which is the support beam on either side of the windshield, has gone pretty much unchanged in its purpose for decades, both to stop the roof from caving in on the occupants in the event of a rollover crash while also offering a pathway for frontal crash forces to be distributed up and down around the front-seat passengers via the floor rails and roof structure. The only downside is the pillar’s location, which is directly in the line of sight between the driver and the road, hence the desire for a new solution. 

With the latest advancements in material technology, many of us have wondered if it would be possible to keep the A-pillar and all of its structural importance, and simply make it out of a transparent material. Some automakers have attempted to achieve pillar-windows in the past. The old Buick Century had a lovely windshield that wrapped its corners to meet the door, though it lacked much safety, considering there was virtually no A-pillar.

Some modern cars, like the Renault Espace and Grand Scenic, have massive dashboard windows in front of the doors that close to the same design. A few years ago, Continental announced a camera-and-screen setup that projected an exterior image onto a screen attached to the A-pillar. Jag had a transparent pillar patent back in 2014, Toyota had a similar concept back in 2017 that involved trick mirrors, and now it looks like the engineers at General Motors may be finally giving truly transparent pillars a serious shot. 

The patent filing describes a “novel fiber reinforced composite A-pillar that includes one or more designed openings impregnated with a transparent resin or composite,” with a transparent material “disposed within the opening in the pillar body,” featuring material qualities for filtering ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR) wavelengths, likely to protect occupants and cabin materials from sun damage, etc.

The filing mentions the pillar support will be strengthened with an internal fiber structure, like carbon fiber, to maintain its strength. The filing also specifies that the “transparent material is selected from materials having a transmission coefficient of at least 50 percent for light in the infrared (IR), visible, ultraviolet (UV) wavelengths and a refractive index between 1 and 2 for visible light, such as polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA) or an optically transparent polycarbonate.”

This A-pillar window design features electrical wiring, like the front windshield and rear window on most modern cars, for temperature control of the transparent material to aid with defogging and deicing the exterior surface, as well as to potentially allow for the window to be dimmed and or darkened electronically, given specific material properties that would allow for such a feature. 

If sticking a little window in the A-pillar that doesn’t compromise its structural integrity seems like a manufacturing headache for GM, the patent mentions methods for reducing assembly costs. The electrical wiring would be embedded into the clear material during the molding process, which would then connect to electrical wiring already engineered into the vehicle frame from the initial blueprint design for seamless and straightforward integration on the assembly line.

No specific GM brands or vehicles are mentioned in the patent filing, and it’s unlikely the automaker would comment on speculation about future product. We’ll just have to wait and see if GM has any real plans to put this new transparent A-pillar design into production. Increased visibility and bringing in more cabin light would likely immediately improve any vehicle, if they can make it work safely.

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