Switchable seconds – oh yes, people are counting

Earlier this week I posted a video showing a simulation of Boeing’s 787 electrochromic windows. And I asked the question – is the switching speed in the video a far-faster-than-real-life simulation?

It’s hard to know for certain. But Boeing is still using a 100-second switching speed in its advertising materials. Check out the following link:


100 seconds seems like an awfully long time to go from light to dark and vice versa. As such, Research Frontiers - whose suspended particle device (SPD)-Smart window shades are licensed for use in aviation to InspecTech Aero – might find itself in a sweet spot as airframers and airlines study new window and shade technology to replace plastic pull-down shades.

So what makes SPD so special? SPD technology is fast. It only takes only two seconds to go clear. It can also be made out of lightweight plastic (electrochromic on aircraft needs to use glass), and has an infinite amount of intermediate settings (i.e. no pre-sets required) so that the passenger or the flight crew can precisely adjust how much light is coming into the cabin. Check out a video here:

In the King Airs that this technology is flying on (offered through HawkerBeechcraft’s RAPID ordering system and elsewhere), each passenger has control over the window at his or her seat, but flight attendants and the cockpit also have full control over all the windows in the aircraft.

Significantly, the technology is also now flying in the bathrooms of Qantas Airbus A380s to much acclaim. Check out the final paragraph in Travel and Leisure‘s article about the Qantas A380. It reads:

The most extravagant detail of all, however, isn’t in the first-class cabin itself, but in its bathrooms. They are large, with an expansive sink and counter, and there’s a window. When you walk in, the window, the surface of which is covered in liquid crystals, appears to be translucent. (Who could look in from the outside to invade your privacy, I’ll never know.) When you lock the door, it transforms, as if by magic, into a transparent surface. Where else can you shut yourself in a bathroom and gaze out at the world from 30,000ft?

So did Research Frontiers find itself busy at the recent Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg?

“I was pleasantly surprised with the general crowd at the show because our technology is used in the automotive industry and when you go to the auto shows this year, it has been kind of sour and dour, but in Hamburg, it was bustling, energetic and upbeat,” Research Frontiers president Joseph Harary tells Runway Girl.

He says the firm’s booth “was extremely crowded” and that executives “had probably five minutes throughout the whole show when there wasn’t anyone in the booth”. Indeed, Flight’s own show daily folks dropped by.

The action is “a reflection on the high interest in switchables”, says Harary, but he believes it’s more than that. “People are not satisfied with the slow switching speed [of electrochromic] so far. The difference between two to three seconds [of SPD] versus the electrochromic on the Boeing web site [is significant]. What if it took 100 seconds to switch a radio station?”

Good question. What if it took 100 seconds to switch to another radio station? Would you bother?

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11 Responses to Switchable seconds – oh yes, people are counting

  1. Lee April 8, 2009 at 12:36 am #

    Why is Boeing sticking with these slow switching windows, when there appears to be a much better alternative?

    It would be like me sticking with a CD player in my car when I can have an IPOD adapter and have my whole music library at my fingertips.

  2. Mary Kirby April 9, 2009 at 2:56 pm #

    I’m afraid you’re right. The collective “we” are accustomed to instant gratification. 100 seconds ain’t nowhere near instant.

  3. heretomocku April 15, 2009 at 5:25 pm #

    What part of scammed can you not figure out? It is no secret that the REFR marketers have always managed to find a gullible journalist, prospective licensee, investor, or college kid writing a research report that can be fooled about the prospects of SPD short term. However, in the real world outside of SPD fantasy land before a product gets released to the general public Engineers, testing and Lawyers who are concerned about product liability all get involved.

    Why did both Boeing and King Air decide to go into actual production with EC instead of SPD?

    I could give you a dozen solid reasons but this one should be more than sufficient.

    In the one corner we have SPD window shades produced by Jimmy Lang the part time aircraft grease monkey -versus- EC windows and overlays produced and backed by a worldwide aircraft window and tint powerhouse team of PPG Aerospace & Gentex.

    If you still cannot figure out why after 45 years of development that SPD remains nothing more than a product relegated to use in mock ups, toilets, demo projects, and after market car tint kits then you must have been dropped on your head as a child.

  4. Mary Kirby April 15, 2009 at 9:53 pm #

    May I suggest that you check out the RWG archives. You’ll find that on 20 March I wrote a blog about Bombardier’s interest in electrochromic for the CSeries (the airframer’s first confirmation of this, from my understanding), and later, on 6 April that there is a video floating about showing the 787 windows in simulated action.

  5. joshua April 16, 2009 at 9:45 am #

    The question is: Which is better, a powehouse with an inferior technology or an unknown with a superior technology?

    Simple and honest way to find out, test them side by side.

  6. scott April 20, 2009 at 4:37 pm #

    In this article you said: “Indeed, Flight’s own show daily folks dropped by.”

    Am curious if those people that dropped by posted anything
    in another blog that I could read. If not, what comments did they make about the tech shown at this booth? Good reviews or not?

    Thanks in advance for your answer.


  7. Scott May 4, 2009 at 1:09 pm #

    Mary, I know you were away for a bit, and perhaps didn’t see my question, so I’ll just copy and paste my comments from April 20th again:


  8. Mary Kirby May 4, 2009 at 2:01 pm #

    Hi Scott,
    Page 13 of the following Flight show daily from Hamburg has a piece. That’s all I’ve seen thus far. http://www.flightglobal.com/assets/getasset.aspx?ItemID=28330

  9. Tom Rukavina June 23, 2009 at 2:04 pm #

    The SPD technology utilizes polaroid crystals which in th off-state are randomly oriented and blue. In the on-state when a potential is applied the crystals line up perpendicular to the field and the window “clears”. It is fast because very little current is drawn. It is a field-effect device like liqued crystal displays. The device works because the crystals are particles that scatter light, the same reason th sky is blue(dust particles). But when you have particles you have haze. Before Hitachi Chemical took a license from REFR we measure 30% haze in the bleached state, compared to the PPG/Gentex system of <1% haze. The light transmittance range was 25% to 2.5 %, not very wide compared to the Boeing spec of 70% to 0.1% with less than 1% haze(it is actually lower in the bleached state. At 2.5% low light transmittance you cannot stare at the sun through the REFR windows as the scattering does not block the sun as it does with a dye-based system at 2.5%. In addition the FAA requires that all cabin windows and cockpit windows must self-bleach upon loss of power which the PPG/Gentex system does, without any external application of power. Thus when the REFR system loses power it darkens and external battery packs would be needed to reverse the potential to bleach the windows. The battery packs would add weight which is a no no.

  10. Mary Kirby June 25, 2009 at 8:44 am #

    If you haven’t already, check out Gadling’s latest on the 787 dimming window at http://www.gadling.com/2009/06/24/paris-air-show-2009-787-dreamliner-electronic-window-shades

  11. Scott April 8, 2013 at 4:55 am #


    Absolutely not! I’d be playing my CD player constantly. Why bother waiting when you can get instant gratification. This technology sounds great. I wish I could get it in my car and in my windows at home.

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