When considering the future of mobility, we often think about the big picture: cars that drive themselves or communicate with each other and the infrastructure around them. It can be easy to gloss over the individual, essential components of automobile engineering – to take something like a windshield, for instance, for granted.
However, that would be a mistake – as demonstrated by the advanced auto glass technologies being developed in southeast Michigan by AGC Automotive Americas.
“When you pause for a moment and think about vehicles on the road and infrastructure, there’s glass everywhere,” says Terence Yim, strategic analyst for the research and development division of AGC Automotive Americas.
“From an automotive point of view, glass plays into the user experience. It has options in technology and design that help the user experience.
“If you think about the future of mobility, glass will always be a part of that. Glass is there to protect the driver and passengers but there are other ways to think about it too.”
AGC Automotive Americas is part of the larger AGC global family of companies. The Tokyo, Japan-based corporation was founded in 1907. AGC has more than 200 companies in a number of sectors, including automotive glass, architectural glass, and electronics, spread across more than 30 countries.
AGC established operations in southeastern Michigan in 1997, sending over a handful of employees to establish R&D activities here. In 2001, AGC Automotive opened its R&D center in Ypsilanti. AGC Automotive established its North American headquarters in Farmington Hills in 2016.
“AGC looked at different states for locations,” Yim says. “But Michigan had a number of good universities, the state government was helpful, and southeastern Michigan is the center of the auto world.”
Much of the technology AGC develops is the result of collaborations between its locations across the globe. And its Michigan offices are deeply involved in some exciting developments in the world of mobility.
In Ypsilanti, AGC engineers are developing 5G wireless network antennas that can be embedded on auto glass such as a windshield or side/back window. Having successfully developed 4G on-glass antennas, the 5G antennas present new challenges. The higher frequency of a 5G wireless signal is needed for faster data rates, but it is more difficult for the signal to penetrate glass.
While not yet on the market, the world’s first 5G embedded glass antenna technology has already been successfully tested at a trial in Japan. The technology stands to play a big role in the proliferation of connected vehicles.
“As we see the automotive world changing, technology is a big part of that,” Yim says.
“There are a lot of people talking about mobility and autonomous vehicles. But before autonomous vehicles come connected vehicles, and it becomes more and more important how these vehicles communicate with each other.”
Another innovation in automotive glass is the ever-growing field of head-up displays, or HUDs. The technology displays information directly on a car’s windshield rather than its dashboard or center console. The technology is being touted as a safer way to view information while driving, with the displays more directly in line with a driver’s line of sight.
A luxury German carmaker released a new model this year that utilizes AGC’s HUD technology, which Yim says is the largest display on the market. HUDs keep getting bigger and bigger and, as autonomous vehicles become more prominent, may one day cover entire windshields.
“The head-up display is a good present-day example of glass and technology,” Yim says. “For a lot of the new concepts we think about, we already have the capabilities today that align with the future of mobility. At the same time, we’re thinking mid-term and long-term strategy. This is the future.”