Martin LaMonica

A View from Martin LaMonica

Wi-Fi-Controlled Smart Windows Auto-Tint

Startup View, formerly called Soladigm, introduces a dynamic glass window that tints based on building light and temperature.

  • November 12, 2012

A Silicon Valley startup unveiled a smart window product that gives building designers a promising new tool and improves building efficiency.

The W Hotel in San Francisco has installed automatically tinting windows from View.

View, formerly called Soladigm, today officially introduced its auto-tinting window system, which will be shown publicly at the Greenbuild conference in San Francisco.

There have been many attempts to make windows that can change color to adjust light and temperature indoors, but these glass products are rarely used. Five-year-old View says its electrochromatic glass is durable and provides a reasonable payback on energy reductions and eliminating blinds.

But shaving energy bills—typically, a 20 percent reduction in HVAC and lighting—aren’t the only draw, says CEO Rao Mulpuri. “The energy savings are tremendous but this is much larger than that. It’s a truly intelligent window system that allows for a fantastic user experience,” he says.

The W Hotel in San Francisco is using View’s glass in the lobby in part because of its sustainability efforts. But the glass allows people to sit in comfort next to the windows by reducing glare and heat when tinted and allowing as much natural light in as possible.

In a commercial setting, such as a hotel or store, the glass typically gets its directions on how much to tint from occupancy, temperature, and light sensors connected to a building management system.

The windows themselves, which are activated by a low voltage, are physically wired to a brick-shaped device, which connects to Wi-Fi networks. That allows a person to manually control the tinting from a wall switch or a networked device, such as a smart phone or computer.

View’s core technology, though, is its electrochromatic material and how it’s applied to glass. Using physical vapor deposition techniques common in the thin-film solar or display industry, it sputters metal oxide gases onto glass to create a ceramic coating. The finished window includes wiring and a second glass pane. Using a ceramic material (which is abundant) makes the window coating durable, which has been a problem for other auto-tinting technologies, Mulpuri says. (See, Making Smart Windows That Are Also Cheap).

Lured by $44 million in state grants and loans, the company has a factory in Olive Branch, Mississippi near the logistics hub of Memphis, Tennessee. View is also developing channel partners to distribute its product through.

View’s windows cost 50 percent more than plain windows, so it’s a premium product building owners need to be willing to pay more for. Building designers and architects will no doubt have many ideas on how smart glass can be incorporated into building facades or skylights. The key is demonstrating that its energy-saving features can justify the new technology.

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