Posts Tagged: Smart Glass



User-Controlled Smart Glass (Electrochromic Shades) on Boeing 787 and Lessons for Aerial Cable Cars

Throughout our time on the Gondola Project, we’ve seen many transport systems install smart glass windows (i.e. Morizo Gondola in Japan and Bukit Panjang LRT in Singapore). However, these systems did not offer users the ability to control when the glass becomes “frosted” nor the amount of “frostiness”.

Enter Boeing’s newest aircraft, the 787 Dreamliner. These planes now feature what they like to call, “electrochromic shades”.

Electrochromic Shades on Boeing 787. Image by Flickr user Jun Seita.

Passengers can now choose and adjust how transparent they want their windows to be (see video below). While the “electrochromic shades” term sounds a lot like a marketing buzz word, the company is quick to point out that this design was built to improve passenger comfort and fun. And who can doubt them? I’m not sure about you, but if I boarded a plane with this tinting system, I’d certainly let all my friends and family know about it.

This Boeing case study is a great example of how innovative companies and technologies are constantly undergoing minor upgrades to improve passenger experience — something that is often lacking in the field of public transit.

While user-controlled smart glass windows cannot and should not be replicated on all transit vehicles, this feature can certainly be translated into aerial gondola systems.

Giving passengers the option to adjust the level of brightness in a cabin may not convert hordes of auto commuters into transit riders, but perhaps anything that adds a bit of “personalization” and “fun” into the often dreary public space of a transit vehicle is a welcome site.

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Smart Glass On The Bukit Panjang LRT

I was more than a little impressed by the speed with which Gondola Project readers were able to identify the system I pointed out in this past weekend’s post.

Sure enough, as Mattias pointed out, the system in question was the Bukit Panjang LRT in Singapore. This wasn’t a system I’d ever heard of or ever planned on visiting. Instead, I just happened to stumble across it while visiting a few of Singapore’s transit amenities during a 14 hour stop over there.

Now let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: The Bukit Panjang isn’t an LRT. Not even close. The 8 km long elevated system uses Bombardier’s Innovia APM 100 technology, is fully-automated and has 100 person vehicles spaced at roughly 5 minute headways.

It’s clearly an Automated People Mover or Automated Guideway Transit system. But given that I’ve already ranted and raved about nomenclature issues enough already, I’ll save that topic for another time.

The system itself has been plagued by problems and is in danger of becoming a legendary transit white elephant. But what really caught my eye were those windows:

Before. . .

. . . and after.

As you can see in the short video below, the windows are equipped with smart glass technologies. This allows the windows to switch instantaneously between opaque and transparent modes:

This has certain clear (sorry) advantages. The BPLRT travels through high density, residential highrise neighbourhoods. As the system is elevated, concerns exist for those apartment dwellers whose privacy could be compromised by riders of the BPLRT. The smart glass idea solves that problem . . . sort of.

The strange thing is that while the sides of the vehicles are smart glass equipped, the front and rear windows of the vehicles are not. You can still see into apartments from these areas. Given that the front and rear areas are such prime seating areas, I suspect some people’s privacy will be compromised by curious eight year olds peeping into whatever apartments they can.

Spiderman knows what you wear to sleep at night.

I also think there’s a kind of Ostrich Effect going on here. Let me explain:

The story goes that ostriches hide their head in the sand to avoid predators. Because the ostrich cannot see it’s predators, the ostrich assumes it is safe from its predator. Hilarity and nature channel violence ensues. The story is obviously pure myth but endures as a fantastic metaphor for the consequences of the ignorance that arises from only viewing the world from your own, first person vantage point.

Isn’t the BPLRT acting in the same way?

Sure riders cannot see into the apartments, but apartment dwellers can still see the vehicles. Even if you can’t see the riders, it’s still a little disconcerting, no? I’m not sure this actually alleviates the concerns of apartment dwellers. But at the same time, I don’t know. I’m torn on this one and would love to hear what Gondola Project readers have to say about this issue.

Nevertheless, it’s an innovative technique that is remarkably rare in the world. I can’t think of any transit system that’s ever employed the idea. But then again, I didn’t know about the BPLRT until three days ago. As I’ve said before, you don’t know what you don’t know.

Whether it works as planned or not isn’t the point. At least Singapore’s transit agencies are trying things. They’re thinking, experimenting and challenging established norms. They should be congratulated for that.

As for how this applies to gondolas and cable cars . . . I’ll leave that to the commenters. I’m sure Gondola Project readers will have fun arguing and discussing that one for a long time to come.

Note: Travel, ridiculous time zone changes and conference lectures have meant I’m behind on my posts (again). Really very sorry and I’m trying to catch up. Please, stay tuned.

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