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Sick of smudges on your car's enormo touchscreen? GM patents potential cure

How about the inside of the windshield instead?

Are you sick of smudges on those unwieldy touchscreens making their way into modern cars these days? General Motors has filed a patent to clear them using UV light, though don't assume it'll actually ship.

Patents don't mean an actual product is forthcoming, of course, but if this one [PDF] makes it to manufacturing GM owners could open the door every morning to a car with clean, unsmudged surfaces. But it's sadly not to be, for the moment at least.

"We have nothing to announce today and cannot speculate on future technologies or products," GM told The Register.

The concept relies on materials known as photocatalysts, which use light to cause a chemical reaction. In this instance, GM would place a photocatalytic coating on touchscreen surfaces of its cars that, when exposed to ultraviolet light, would remove "fingerprint oils and other debris" from the screen. 

While similar in a sense, the use of UV light to clean a touchscreen of debris isn't the same as using it to disinfect surfaces. That technology, which became popular during the COVID-19 pandemic, relies on a narrow band of UV light known as UVC, which has been used to kill pathogens and purify air/surfaces for decades.

The COVID-19 coronavirus, for example, is vulnerable to UVC because it destroys the virus' outer protein coating and deactivates it. 

Photocatalysts use a variety of different metal and non-metal oxides to enable their reactions, and GM's patent mentions a variety of possible configurations to achieve its end. The same technology can already be found in self-cleaning windows, which typically use titanium dioxide coatings because it is both photocatalytic and hydrophobic.

Such windows use UV light in the same manner as GM's screens, but windows are regularly exposed to sunlight. The dashboards in automobiles don't get that same level of exposure - especially if the vehicle has tinted windows - which is where the actual innovation in GM's patent comes in: A fourth LED added alongside the touchscreen's RGB pixels: Ultraviolet. 

The screen's UV pixels, GM said, would be invisible to the naked eye and could be configured to turn on in a variety of scenarios to keep the vehicle screen clean while also preventing sunburn to occupants. 

GM's self-cleaning screens could be configured to activate in the presence of sunlight while the vehicle is on, or alternatively configured to only clean the screen at night when the vehicle is off. Other scenarios mentioned include having the vehicle immediately clean its screens when occupants leave the car and giving owners the ability to control cleaning duration and times.

Maybe we'll see this clearly one day, if GM gets its act together. ®

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