Tesla CEO Elon Musk is famous for saying, among many other things, that people need to use “first principles” thinking or “reasoning from the ground up” in order to solve a problem in the most effective and fundamental way. This mentality has led to revolutionary rockets that are able to re-land on drone ships, a model lineup of state-of-the-art electric vehicles, brain implants, solar roofs, and now, laser windshield wipers. Or at least, the patent for laser windshield wipers taken out by a Tesla employee.
A diagram of the proposed laser cleaning system. Phiroze Dalal
In a recent report by Electrek, the green ecosystem-focused news agency showcased a patent application for “Pulsed Laser Cleaning of Debris Accumulated on Glass Articles in Vehicles and Photovoltaic Assemblies” taken out by Phiroze Dalal, a Staff Scientific and Industrial Imaging Specialist at the rapidly expanding company. The patent application, which is available in full here, notes the drawbacks of conventional cleaning methods—e.g. soap and water or robotic brushers—and adds that a laser “cleaning apparatus” would take less time to perform its function, and wouldn’t inflict any damage on glass surfaces, as is sometimes the case with chemical cleaners.
The patent specifically notes that “the [laser] cleaning apparatus may be installed as a modular device in a vehicle and may provide a contactless means to clean different glass articles, for example windshields, in-vehicle camera lenses, side windows, rear-view mirrors, and the like…” and also states that “The [laser] cleaning apparatus provides a fast, robust, and chemical-free solution to clean different glass articles in vehicles and solar photovoltaic facilities.” And because Tesla produces both electric cars and solar panels, a more effective system for cleaning glass surfaces is obviously highly relevant.
An unrelated video from SurClean showing how lasers are able to clean off dust and oil.
In terms of how the laser cleaning system works, it’s essentially as you’d expect: The lasers emit pulses of light that blast apart and/or burn up dirt on the surface of windshields, or any other suitable glass surfaces. The dirt is actually detected at first by a system of cameras however, which, it seems, collects information on the type and scale of the dirt that needs to be removed and subsequently informs the laser as to how strong its pulses should be. The figure (top) from the patent shows one possible placement of the lasers on a Tesla vehicle.
There’s been no official word from either Tesla or Elon Musk (that we could find, at least) regarding the likelihood of using the proposed laser cleaning system on either its cars or solar rooftop panels, although considering the company’s first-ever truck looks like something out of Halo, the odds seem decent. And while it’s impossible to say if this cleaning system will come to fruition some time in the near future, it’s still fun to see first principles thinking at work—especially if it leads to more lasers.
What do you think about these laser windshield wipers? Do you think they could ever be deployed on production vehicles, or would there be too many possible dangers for the tech to ever be implemented? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!