Whether we like it or not, touchscreens that replace physical buttons in automobiles are here to stay. In fact, one day the entire dashboard of your vehicle will likely be a single screen coated with weeks of greasy fingerprints. General Motors has patented a revolutionary screen design that enables touchscreens to automatically erase fingerprints, making them less of an inconvenience. Previously, fingerprints had to be wiped off with the odd sleeve polish.

This patent does not describe a robot arm with a microfiber cloth that extends from a car’s dashboard and begins cleaning the windscreen, nor does it describe small windscreen wipers that activate in response to every touchscreen operation. What GM has developed is considerably more ingenious and unobtrusive.

In addition to red, green, and blue pixels, the enhanced screens would have a violet pixel that, like ultraviolet light, would be invisible to the human eye so as not to impact the colours and images displayed. Additionally, the touchscreen would employ an invisible photocatalyst screen coating designed to absorb specific wavelengths of light in order to induce a chemical reaction. GM’s patent proposes the employment of a metal-oxide-based photocatalyst that would react to the UV radiation in sunlight. However, as many automobiles employ window tinting to keep the interiors dark and cold, the photocatalyst’s reaction would be activated by the violet pixels.

At night, when the car is sitting idle in the dark, or even during a cleaning cycle manually initiated by the driver during the day, the violet pixels would turn on and activate the photocatalyst in the screen coating, which would initiate a chemical reaction that uses moisture in the air to break down the organic materials left behind in fingerprints, as well as oil residue and grease from the fast food we all occasionally consume in the car.

As soon as the reaction ceases and everything dries, those greasy smears and fingerprints will vanish like dust in the wind, leaving spotless screens ready to be smudged with the remains of an Egg McMuffin.

When will GM begin offering touchscreens that clean themselves as an option? Perhaps in a few years, or perhaps never. However, the technology is only at the patent stage, and GM has not announced if it expects to pursue the technology as an actual feature in future vehicles, or whether it would simply sit on the patent to prevent other automakers from offering it. Self-cleaning touchscreens would be a wonderful addition to a wide variety of gadgets, not only automobiles, and it is hoped that the company would continue through with the concept.

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