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Motor Mouth articles 2014

The wiper’s next for the scrapyard

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TRANSPORT a motorist from 20 years ago into the driver’s seat of a brand new car today and he’d be probably be mystified

Bit by bit, technology has brought so many changes to the day-to-day operation of the 21st century car that it has become almost unrecognisable.

Think about it: on the high-end marques, you’ll get fingerprint recognition to grant you entry to the vehicle and automatically adjust the seat, then key-less ignition to fire up the engine.

There are on-board computers, built-in satellite navigation systems, USB ports, wrap-around sound systems and digital radios, electrically operated windows, mirrors and roofs, seats with countless configurations, LCD lighting.

Performance and fuel economy are phenomenal compared with a generation ago; four-wheel-drive and wall-to-wall airbags have taken safety to new levels and there are gas pumps at filling stations and electric charging points on streets.

The motorist’s landscape, especially the view from behind the wheel, has changed beyond recognition, and yet one bit of old technology has survived – the humble windscreen wiper.

They’re more reliable nowadays and they’re often fitted to the rear screen as well as the front, but basically they are still the same as they always were, liable to smear dead insects or mud splashes across your eye line and freeze up in the winter.

Well the unstoppable march of progress has finally caught up with the windscreen wiper and it is thanks to technology borrowed from aircraft designers.

McLaren are reportedly working on plans to replace the rubber wiper with an ultrasound device that prevents anything sticking to the screen. It is based on high-frequency sound waves that create a force field of vibrations across the glass, preventing debris from sticking.

The system has been adapted from that used on fighter jets, which, of course, seem to manage pretty well in rainy weather without resorting to wipers. If testing goes well, it could be fitted to McLaren’s supercars and would doubtless be swiftly adopted by mass production cars.

McLaren’s chief designer Frank Stephenson told the Sunday Times: “The windscreen wiper is an archaic piece of technology. We’ve had them since cars began and it’s one of the last bastions of design to overcome.

“It took a lot of effort to get this out of a source in the military. I asked why you don’t see wipers on some aircraft when they are coming in at very low speeds for landing and was told that it’s not a coating on the surface but a high-frequency electronic system that never fails. Nothing will attach to the windscreen.”

Trials are already going on with driverless cars; all we need now is vertical thrust air jets to replace old-fashioned round wheels and we’ll know for sure that we’ve arrived in the future.

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