Windshield Wipers Passť? McLaren Thinks So | Edmunds

Windshield Wipers Passť? McLaren Thinks So

Just the Facts:
  • McLaren hopes to replace wiper blades with a new system that uses high-frequency sound waves to clear windshields.
  • The ultrasonic system would be adapted from the one used on fighter jets.
  • The system would improve aerodynamics, cut weight and provide more efficient windshield cleaning.

WOKING, England — McLaren hopes to replace wiper blades with a new system, adapted from fighter jets, that uses high-frequency sound waves to clear windshields.

Although McLaren is not revealing details at this point, chief designer Frank Stephenson told The Sunday Times of London that he's been in contact with the military to learn more about the high-tech system, with the idea of developing it for the company's line of high-performance sports cars.

A McLaren spokesman told Edmunds: "This was not part of our formal media communications, but rather an anecdotal comment I think Frank made. In the spirit of transparency, it's just an idea at this stage with no confirmed introduction."

Still, the technology would offer a number of advantages. Manufacturers of supercars like the 2014 McLaren MP4-12C and the 2015 McLaren P1 are always concerned about aerodynamics — even reducing panel gaps by a millimeter or two is considered significant — so the elimination of efficiency-sapping windshield wipers would be a meaningful improvement.

Chucking the heavy wiper motor would also save weight, which would improve both performance and fuel efficiency. And the ultrasonic system is said to be more effective than blades at keeping windshields free of water and debris.

There haven't been that many improvements in windshield wipers since they were patented in 1903 by American real-estate developer Mary Anderson. That first device was operated by a hand-crank, which caused a rubber blade to scrape the outside of the glass.

Automatic wipers were patented in 1922 and continued in use until the early 1960s, by which time versions powered by electric motors began to dominate. That was about it, until the adoption later in the 1960s of the intermittent wiper.

Although a Japanese firm, Motoda Electronics, patented an ultrasonic windshield-clearing mechanism in 1988, the technology was not deemed commercially practical and never made it into a production vehicle.

Edmunds says: If McLaren is able to make such a system economically viable — not so hard to do on vehicles that can broach the $1 million mark — it's conceivable that the next generation of the company's sports cars could clear their windshields with sound waves.

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