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Have you looked at your windshield wipers lately? (arstechnica.com)
262 points by Tomte on Feb 12, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 158 comments

I love little "niches" like these. So many things in our lives are so filled with "depth" that even extremely observant people will never notice.

Sometimes I just sit back and wonder at what the designers or manufacturers of common things had to deal with.

Perhaps the shape of a mug handle was a point of contention between several people, or the thickness of your desk was the result of a compromise that came from a grueling 4 hour long meeting, or there is an engineer somewhere that is extremely proud of the weeks they spent designing an office chair wheel that won't suck up a cord, or the designer which worked several weekends in a row to completely redesign the shape of the base of a desk lamp so that the regulatory sticker could be placed on the back and not on the front.

It makes me feel better when I feel like I'm wasting time trying out different button shapes and sizes for a stupid menu somewhere deep in an app that nobody will ever really care about.

You should watch some of engineerguy's videos on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/engineerguyvideo/videos. He goes over some of these small details in products and why they are there. It's quite interesting!

I used to work for Denso (who's heavily quoted in this story) in their research lab. I remember my boss telling me that one of the rubber seals in their HVAC system had something like 17 patents to get the characteristics just right (iirc they're the #1 auto HVAC supplier).

(It fit onto one of the openings in the box-like compartment you can see in the left side of the unit http://www.hpaircraft.com/neon/100_2342a.JPG)

I didn't appreciate it then, but I find modern automobiles to be a minor miracle given how many components go into it and the level of detail that goes into designing each one, both individually and so that they all get nicely packaged together.

What I think is interesting is that cars are technically complex, yet there are a lot of car companies, each making cars their own way. Usually, products that are highly technically complex are only made by a small number of companies, since R&D is expensive. I don't really know enough to speculate on why the car industry is that way.

Interesting question. Partially it's that the global car market is huge so there's enough profit to go around even with a lot of companies.

I think the more important reason is historical, though. The car companies of today were almost all established back in the days when shipping cars internationally was expensive, and operating a factory in a foreign country was difficult. So each major industrialised country wound up with a few manufacturers after a lot of consolidation -- in the US dozens of manufacturers got reduced down to three. Then there's three German, two French, one (major) Italian... Japan is a weird case but it is still consolidating... Only in the last few decades has the car market become really global, and as a result there's ongoing consolidation continuing, eg Fiat-Chrysler and Renault-Nissan.

I don't know if it's true, but I wouldn't be surprised if many states didn't heavily subsidize their own car manufacturers early in the automobile boom.

To a first approximation, every nation subsidized their automotive manufacturers directly (government ownership, policies) and indirectly (contracts for building military vehicles, building highway systems and regulating the industry).

Good old-fashioned government subsidies. I guess you can't overlook the US-automaker bailout under Obama as being part of this process.

Yep, if it weren't for that, GM would probably be out of business now. Too bad.

Important fact is that the whole automotive industry is built on heavy outsourcing. Typical car manufacturer only manufactures the car body, maybe engine and does the final assembly. For everything else not only the manufacturing but also R&D is outsourced.

Also, motor manufacturers design basic platforms that are used across many models and often across many brands. A basic chassis, engine and drivetrain package might be the basis for a dozen different cars. Developing a platform might cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but those costs can be spread across several million cars.



Was going to write exactly this. Open the hood and you see Bosch, Denso, Delphi logos, not the OEM. The car maker makes maybe the engine, and even that is increasingly outsourced.

No car company on the planet, that I'm aware of, makes air conditioners, as one example. Nor do they make things like brake pads, brake calipers, radiators, headlights, I could go on and on. All these things are outsourced to suppliers. There aren't that many suppliers, and the suppliers pretty much all serve multiple automakers each. So lots of Japanese makers (probably all of them) use parts from Denso, for instance.

It's not that much different from laptop computer makers; there's a bunch of them, all with slightly different designs, but they all use CPUs from AMD or Intel, they all use optical drives from 2 or 3 different companies, they all use memory from a few suppliers, they all use LCD screens from a few suppliers, etc.

Another thing to consider is patents: take a brand-new car apart, and compare it to one from 1996. You'll find a lot of stuff really hasn't changed much (now compare the '96 car to a '76 car, and you'll see a lot of gigantic differences). A lot of stuff in the auto industry has become very mature IMO. Obviously there's a lot of new electronics in new cars (things like lane-keeping assist, radar cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, etc.), but many things look exactly the same: suspensions are about the same, brake systems are identical, the moonroof in my '15 isn't really any different from ones in cars from 10-15 years ago, etc. Patents only last 20 years, so a lot of stuff has probably reached a "good enough" level and the patents have all run out, so companies are probably just doing a lot of things the same way because it's been found to be optimal.

The history of the disposable coffee cup lid is always what I point to when people tell me that engineers and designers don't earn their pay.


Convenience comes at a price, and only after a great deal of thought.

The little air hole is almost always too small to allow smooth drinking. A quick poke with the tip of a ball point pen is perfect. Engineering is hereby PROVED INVALID.

Funnily enough, I was just thinking the exact opposite this morning - how little design thought must go into some things. It was in relation to the poor user experience I'd just had from the toilets at work. As usual, the poorly designed/configured flush splashed water out of the bowl when I flushed, but I've become adept at jumping back in time. The other more pertinent issue is that the cubicle is so small in relation to the door size that I had a struggle to get out without brushing my coat against the wet splashed bowl. On this issue, I was thinking that it was probably caused by someone just buying some standard sized off-the-shelf components that looked roughly right and whacking them together, e.g. 2m board for sides, and 1m door with toilet protruding 80cm from wall, leaving you 20cm between toilet and open door (note that these are example sizes just to make the point - I didn't actually measure anything). In other words, no-one thought how big the cubicle actually needed to be. I guess there's probably some correlation between design input and cost, i.e. its probably just not worth anyone spending too much time thinking about that sort of thing.

I often find bathrooms that were around before ADA [0], and have since been retrofitted, have the worst designs. That's why I try to use the handy-capable stalls, or "suites" as I call them, whenever I have a chance.

Most newer bathroom designs seem sane to me, since they were designed with ADA compliance in mind. Except for airport bathrooms for some reason, where you have to cram yourself and your luggage into a stall that's the same size as any other stall outside of the airport.


I agree that the older, retrofitted bathrooms are indeed horrible designs. However, I completely disagree that newer bathroom designs are "sane". I have seen very, very few "sane" public bathrooms; usually they're just in fancy restaurants where they don't use the standard metal partitions, and instead spend a lot of money on real walls and tile and wooden doors.

As far as I'm concerned, any public bathroom where the partitions between stalls have any gap at all (especially about 12 inches as they usually are) are not sane. There is no reason for that gap; it's just creepy.

The gap is for easier mopping.

It also lets people check for feet before prying open the door.

It's also for if you have, er, a "wide stance" like former senator Larry Craig.

It also saves 12 inches of material.

It also is an affront to privacy.

They could save lots more material by just not having any partitions at all. Why don't they just do that?

As for checking for feet, airplanes solved that problem decades ago with door latches that indicate "occupied" when they're closed.

I recommend the movie Objectified, which is about exactly this.


In a related vein, back when I was a product manager, I was always struck by how many customers came through who were the #1 manufacturer of toilet seats or plastic milk bottles or whatever in the United States.

>Sometimes I just sit back and wonder at what the designers or manufacturers of common things had to deal with.

I do the same, and probably the one item that I've thought about more often than others is, hilariously, those novelty testicles they sell to attach to your car's trailer hitch. Between design, materials, manufacture, distribution...just how much work goes into truck nuts?

On the other hand, a lot of decisions are taken on the spot. Really, an astonishing amount. Of course the higher the volume of the product is, and the harder it is to change, the more effort is put into decisions, and there's seemingly no upper limit to how much effort managers are willing to allocate.

I get this exact same feeling, a thousand fold when I'm in a supermarket. To think of the amount of effort it has taken to design, manufacture, package, market and transport all those products (edible or not) is a little overwhelming.

Prior to eating a meal I occasionally give thanks a la grace style to someone in that chain.

Random things like thanking the person who fitted the alternator belt on the tractor that ploughed the soil the carrots were grown in.

This is why food waste killllls me. A field was sown, carrots grown, weeds picked, carrot harvested, inspected, washed, shipped, stored, sold, aaaand... it rots in my fridge and goes straight into the trash can off to the landfill. Ugh.

Or my favorite: life forms that have spent millions of years decomposing and transforming into oil are drilled out of the ground, refined, hauled somewhere, turned into plastic, hauled somewhere else to be formed into a spoon shape, hauled halfway across the globe to reach your table/store/restaurant... just to be thrown out without being used.

Have you read "Religion for Atheists", by any chance?

I haven't. Sounds like the kind of thing that might appeal to me, will look it up.

The fact that one can go to any US municipality over ~5,000 and have access to more or less the same supermarket experience...this is what people mean when the West is in the top X% of the world.

Thank you for thinking of us. -- A Carrot Seed grower and breeder

I'm always amazed that one can tip over a soft drink (with the lid on) and then the thing will explode everywhere when you try to open it, yet it was transported possibly thousands of miles over all sorts of rough terrain, jostled about, mishandled, loaded and unloaded quickly by forklifts, then stacked on shelves by hand, and the only thing it does when you open it then is just make a noise.

i think more about economic side of the things, how can be profitable for all parties (producer, transport company and supermarket chain is bare minimum) to sell me 2l bottle of soda for 0.19€, it's taking quite a lot space weighing 2kg, producer is about 150km away, yet all three parties make profit on this product? the letter itself (flavored soda) has probably lower value than packaging is packaging, transportation and storing in supermarket taking space of other products.

is there product which would take more space and weight more while being extremely cheap as soda drink? i can't think of anything as large and cheap as bottle of soda

Possibly bleach, and in some countries, gasoline/petrol (taxes are quite variable).


i doubt that chart, gallon (6l) of Pepsi you can get here in promotion around 2 USD (.59€ for 2l bottle), gallon of drinks i buy cost .56€ so roughly around 60 dollar cents, no way bleach is that cheap

even 1l petrol cost with zero taxes way more than my 2l bottle for 19 eurocents

Not only relevant, but sure feels like the inspiration for the GP comment.

Having recently "invented" and manufactured a physical product, I can attest to how much time and effort is put into seemingly inconsequential product features. Coming from tech/services like many of you I had no idea how much time I'd spend on minor features that happened to be critical to bringing the product to market.

That being said, when coding software or accomplishing a purely "tech" task, most of my time is usually spent on the "minor details" so I guess it isn't all that much different.

Yep, and many times we end up with lousy products despite all this work. Case in point in the xkcd comic: the switch on the lamp cord. What an utterly idiotic idea; it's only done because it's cheaper, not because it's better for the user. In fact, I'd assert that lamps, in general, have some of the very worst product design for any class of modern product. They haven't improved substantially in many decades. We have amazing LED lighting now (as seen on the headlights of new cars, both the DRL systems and also on some cars which use LEDs for the main headlights), but our table/floor lamps are still unchanged from the 1950s, designed around the ancient Edison bulb, with horrible user interfaces (switch on cord where it's hard to reach, or switch next to bulb where you have to stick your arm up inside the lampshade and try to find it in the dark).

I've heard people say that the space shuttle is so complex no single person can understand it entirely. I feel like my car is likely a candidate now too.

Or a pencil, for that matter...

I, Pencil (from 1958): http://www.econlib.org/library/Essays/rdPncl1.html

Not complete without mentioning the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clear_view_screen .

Wow, always wondered about that. Also sounds like one of those harebrained inventions from the early industrial age: "Tired of your windows getting dirty? Just rotate them at high speed and whoosh the dirt goes!"

Years ago when I was karting some people had them for wet races.


Wouldn't the gyroscopic effects make it really annoying to turn with that on your face?

Counter-rotate the left and right discs.

Also, drive them from the edge, not the center.

This looks so cool. Makes me wonder why don't all karting/motorcycling helmets do this?

OK not really "why not all?", but I am surprised that i'ver never seen this before.

Maybe it works on the track, but for normal road use it's a really bad idea. Turn your head to one side at speed and the rotating disk gets ripped right off, if you're lucky!

With the current state of electrical storage, doing this on some old-timey-looking goggles might actually be feasible.

Helmets use a simpler system with disposable tear-off films.

Same, I always thought they were signaling devices since they always appeared to be more reflective (probably has something to do with the rotation) than the windshield.

Interesting read. There really is a lot of thought that goes into these things. Bought a set of silicone/rubber wipers the other day. They were covered in a very fine gray dust which at first seemed to be like spray paint.

So without thinking I started to "clean" them. Half way through it came to me there was too much of the stuff to be by accident and there was no marketing reason for it to be light gray.

Couldn't think of what to google at first? Painted wipers? Dusty wipers? Then I tried graphite powder + wipers because it resembled what a ground up pencil might look like. Bingo.

Apparently, it's a lubricant to prevent squeaking, shouldn't be disturbed before being placed on the vehicle. Of course, I had already wiped it almost clean off of one wiper. Felt a bit stupid afterwards.

Good news is wipers don't squeak.

Coincidentally, I just watched a good movie called "Flash of Genius" on Netflix yesterday. It's a drama based on the true story of Robert Kearns, the inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper. Highly recommend it if you liked this article.


I wish adaptive adaptive windshield wiping would become a standard feature, i.e. the frequency automatically adjusts to the amount of rain coming down.

My truck has this but I don't know what it's called. I permanently leave the windshield wipers on the first setting. If it isn't raining, they don't operate. As the intensity of the rain vhanges, the wipers automatically adapt.

I think it will soon. I've had my car (a 2017 Toyota Corolla, base model) for about 3 months now and I'm still amazed by some of the features they're now including standard (automatic high beams, lane departure assist, adaptive cruise control). Granted these features don't work quite as well as those I've seen in more expensive cars, but just having them as standard features for a new car under $18k USD is pretty impressive.

Lots of cars come with this now, even near-economy-level ones. It's called "rain-sensing wipers".

Adaptive windshield wiping? Shit, I'm just hoping automatic headlights become standard. I had two Camaros, one from the late 90s and one from 2002. They both had auto lights.

My 2008 Prius? Nope. My sister has a 2007 Honda Odyssey, no auto lights either. How much difficulty is it to add a damn photosensor and a switch?

The next "latest and greatest" thing out now (or soon) is a system by some of the luxury car makers (I think Audi and/or BMW?): "smart lighting" headlight systems.

Basically, instead of just a headlight bulb with hi and low beams, they use a single bulb (probably LED) and a TI micro-mirror array, controlled by a computer-vision (and other sensors) system to control the headlights to do some pretty amazing stuff:

* adaptive high-beams - lighting only the areas that need it

* auto-highlighting road-side obstacles (like animals or pedestrians or cars)

* placing "signage" at the feet of pedestrians to warn them

* highlighting of signs (and only the signs) with high-beams

Imagine the car steering the beams where needed, when needed - brightening things for your attention, dimming areas that are unwanted (oncoming traffic, for instance - to keep from blinding the other drivers), placing other information on the roadway as needed (for you and/or pedestrians), etc.

I think right now it is still a "beta idea" - still being developed. It seems plausible, but it might be something that proves too complex to be practical. The other downside of it (maybe the greatest downside) is that replacing bulbs (not too mention the module!) is probably going to ultra-super expensive.

Of course, most of these luxury cars already have a "service position" of "remove the entire front portion of the car" (or, if doing something interior, "remove the entire dashboard") - which already puts you into the several-hundred dollar repair cost range before anything is done...

several-hundred dollar repair cost range before anything is done

That's the key. Whenever I read about all these new features I just think it's one more thing that will inevitably break.

And then when it breaks, it's more expensive to fix. E.g. the alternator on my BMW X5 went out. Fine, shit happens. But when I had it replaced I found out its water cooled. Which simply makes the repair that much more expensive.

It seems that all luxury cars are like that. They're engineered more for the repair business than for anything else.

Modern systems are more complex than that. My '15 Mazda3 has them, and it's done using a forward-looking camera. The camera looks for oncoming white light, or red light, so it'll keep the high beams on (usually) even when there's reflections from signs, but turn them off for the car driving in front of you, or of course for any oncoming cars.

Your photosensor system probably won't dim the lights for cars driving in front of you, as the red tail lights likely aren't bright enough, and now you're irritating the people you're following.

Its honestly annoying af. I had them on a previous car and had issues. The newer systems are better, but how hard is it to flick a switch? Are we too lazy to turn on the lights now? Maybe driving is too much trouble and fuss for some people.

Kearns early patents were moisture variable and measured friction between blade and glass. Decreasing delay with increased rain. Automotive's didn't steal that idea?

I never understood what is genius about intermittent wipers.

At the time, windshield wipers were controlled by a manifold vacuum, and the speed varied based on how much throttle you were applying. The problem is that this happened in reverse of ideal; at a standstill your wipers would be wiping furiously, and would slow down to near-uselessness as you gave the engine more gas.

The intermittent wiper design not only solved that problem, but paved the way for far greater flexibility when it comes to how fast or slow the wipers should wipe. It also did so with a relatively simple circuit (just charge a capacitor to a certain voltage, then use it to power the motor; adjust the charge rate to adjust the wiper rate). Pretty neat in my book.

> just charge a capacitor to a certain voltage, then use it to power the motor; adjust the charge rate to adjust the wiper rate

Actually, the circuit is a variable oscillator controlled by the adjustment of a potentiometer that controls the charging of the capacitor; that RC constant controls the oscillator (similar to a multivibrator), which is configured to dump the charge to activate a transistor that activate the relay which connects the wiper motor to the battery (there's also a switch contact involved that opens when the motor has completed one revolution). A simple circuit details this:


Kearns' patent essentially shows the same kind of system:


I find it interesting that he did design it this way, as production transistors at the time were still fairly "new" on the market, and would have been an expensive component. There are probably ways to design it back then that wouldn't need a transistor - perhaps based on a bi-metallic switch plus resistance for adjusting the time for a heater to heat up (basically, re-using an automobile blinker in some fashion?) - though maybe this was the direction Ford was trying to take, and Kearns was able to use the "new-fangled part" to his advantage?

Oh - in case it hasn't been posted yet - the New Yorker article the movie was based on:


That's right, there are already intermittent electrical systems on cars. The blinker you mentioned is one, the voltage regulator for the instruments is another, and certainly the ignition system itself.

There are many, many ways to solve this problem. I just don't see a rather mundane engineering solution as being genius. (Cars are full of these sorts of solutions.)

> our wiper group includes 15 or 20 people for North America, and globally it would be several hundred people.

Not sure if that is only designers, or includes test people and manufacturing people. The stabilizer flight controls group on the 757 I worked on consisted of maybe 15 engineers and draftsmen. We did the elevator controls and stabilizer trim system. It was a fair amount of machinery, and there was an awful lot that needed to be taken into account. (The stab trim and elevators are flight critical, meaning it's pretty serious business and nobody wants to make a mistake.)

It took about 3 years.

This did not include the "stress" group which double checked the design, nor the testing and manufacturing people.

They're a supplier, so I'd bet they're supplying a large number of brands with a huge number of total models, rather than just the one.

For reasons unknown to me, the wipers on US military trucks, like the M35, are air operated. They also have a handle you can use to operate them manually if the pneumatic system fails.

Many early cars had windscreen wipers which were operated from the engine vacuum.


The disadvantage was that when you floored the pedal to pass a truck, the wipers stopped working, just when you needed them.

Conversely, when you lifted off the throttle, they flapped insanely fast.

My father had a '54 chevy with such wipers. He generally only drove it if the whether was nice due to the wipers. The faster he drove, the slower the wipers went.

And on a sidenote, he also had a difficult time finding a mechanic that could work on the car, as many don't know how to work on an engine that old.

As a friend of a few mechanics, i find this hard to swallow. The cars of the 50s are a joy to work on compared to most modern systems. Many will jump to work on a classic for that reason. Only chains are likely to turn an old car away, and you shouldnt be going there to service a classic anyway.

Age differences, possibly. To most folks, a classic car starts in the late 50's - and the engine is basically a simplified version of today's engine - and this is what they generally teach. Not everyone is competent enough to chase down a vacuum leak in the engine to fix whatever symptom it is producing, for example. It is kind of similar to how it is easier to find a doctor than a surgeon - and this is a surgeon specialist. Lots wanted to work on it, but not everyone could. Depending on where we lived, he took it out of town. Surprisingly, sometimes this was in larger towns as well as the smaller ones: It depended more on where had the bigger concentration of enthusiasts.

He had a 1963 truck - for longer than he had the car. It was much easier to find a mechanic.

Having a car that old and keeping it in running, road-worthy shape, seems like a pretty dumb thing to do if you can't keep it maintained yourself, unless you're Jay Leno (and he does a lot of his own work actually despite his wealthiness). You're making yourself utterly dependent on service workers who are very hard to find. Hobbies are great and all, but that's when you're the one actually doing the hobby, not just hiring someone else to do the hobby for you. Doing your own crochet or knitting isn't exactly efficient compared to just buying something machine-made, but I can understand the satisfaction it gives someone to hand-make something like that. However, you don't see any crochet or knitting enthusiasts paying other people to do that work for them; the whole point for them is to do it themselves.

Usually, the only people I see who like ancient cars like that, but who don't actually work on them themselves, are extremely wealthy and have significant private collections. Not just some regular middle-class guy.

It seems to me that it would be dumb to miss out on the enjoyment simply because you can't do all the work yourself. Doing your own knitting usually involves shopping for yarn rather than making your own, for example, and many folks will pay for something hand-knitted that is outside of their own skill level. Cars in a way are similar:

Most folks are like that: Some work they can do, other work they pay folks to do, either because of lack of knowledge or lack of equipment. Dad wasn't any different. Some repairs were winter repairs, but he couldn't do it all, especially in his last few years.

Many parts of trucks and buses are air operated. I have a small bus (converted to a little house-on-wheels) and air pressure is needed for the breaks to work, doors to stay closed etc etc. While I can understand why we use it for breaks, when it comes to wipers and doors I feel someone took the idea too far. Fixing any kind of pressure drop is a lot harder than wiring any electrical engine.

Yeah, I knew the brakes were pneumatic, but the wipers seemed like an odd choice...the system is bulky with air tubes all around to make it work. And, it's noisy. The military trucks are a little odd in that they are 24 volts instead of the usual 12. That would have perhaps limited off-the-shelf choices for electric wiper motors.

Nearly all military vehicles from the UK, mainland Europe and the US are 24 volt and it has something to do with radio interference shielding, iirc. Certainly all radio equipped vehicles use 24v wiring with 2x12v batteries.

Many military Land Rovers (60+ years worth) were 24v, at least the ones built specifically for military usage. The lights relay on mine is both 12 & 24 volt, so interchangeable with the many models of vehicle in service. The windscreen wipers are mechanical though, no relay at all, but they only have two positions; on & off.

Aren't trucks 24V too? That should mean plenty of available off the shelf wiper motors... Unless they're too big?

Consumer trucks are 12v, up to and include 1-ton models.

Beyond that I'm not sure off the top of my head, but I do know that a 12v conversion is a very common modification to ex-military vehicles like the CUCV.

24v heavy equipment is kind of a a PITA, in reality. For instance, my father always ran Timberjack and Clark logging equipment, in part because they were 12V. One common problem is that you've got a dead battery in your piece of equipment. With a 12V system, you can just jumpstart your skidder/dozer/whatever using your pickup and a set of cables. If the equipment is 24V, you have to use two pickups in series, which is a lot more difficult.

I don't know about trucks but coach-style busses are usually 24v.

I keep hoping someday I'll be fortunate enough to own a classic CJ or military Jeep with (only) hand-operated wipers mounted at the top of the windshield.

Doors, tops, windshield wiper motors...kids don't know how easy they have it these days.

edit: and I suspect the reason they're pneumatic is because they already have air-powered accessories, so that's one fewer motor to break down.

Because idiots can't burn out an air motor or piston by trying to push snow/ice with them (thereby stalling the motor).

I know that most people here are from SV where corrosion, snow and potholes don't exist but come on, this one should be obvious.

Not following this. If it were obvious, all of the US military vehicles with pneumatic systems would use pneumatic wipers. They don't. I assume electric wipers could integrate some sort of clutch.

Edit: Apparently, high end electric wiper motors use self-resetting circuit breakers to deal with frozen wipers.

Much of the auto industry is based on buying components like these from one of small group of suppliers. Many are German or Japanese. It has the advantage of making it easier for new comers like Tesla: They can just buy things like wipers from the same companies as everyone else, and focus their engineering efforts on the unique parts.

This article talks about how critical the auto suppliers was to Tesla's formation: http://www.businessinsider.com/tesla-the-origin-story-2014-1...

Though, given Tesla is still one of the only new auto makers around, it still is imensly hard to compete against the established companies.

Very interesting article about the early years of Tesla, but there's a weird jump at the end from the Roadster just shipping, to announcing the obscure D-version of Model S.

Something cool I saw recently was that Mercedes has a new wiper system where the water spray/jet system is built into the wipers. So the screen gets sprayed milliseconds before the blade wipes it away.

Also in Mercedes Benz wiper arms: the mono wiper: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKGhKrQmK68

(The weather is too nice in this video, though, so you can't really see how much of the windscreen it manages to clean - however you can certainly see that it manages to trace out more of an ellipse than a circle.)

I had an old 1996 C class with one of these. It worked surprisingly well and never broke.

They're great but if that motor ever goes you will seriously regret it, big$ item and harder to replace than you'd think necessary.

Single wipers leave a huge blindspot of dirty windshield by the top corners where many other wipers wouldn't.

It was coo, but had drawbacks.

Actually, the Mercedes system extends the single wiper towards the corners as it rotates, making it more of a beveled square than semicircle area that is covered.

In fact, it extends farther out than a square form, making it into a bulging square, or something of the like.

We used to have Mercedeses when I was little and I always used to wonder why the inside wiping outline would be round and somewhat M-shaped.

You can kind-of see this in this wonderfully retro polish marketing video: https://youtu.be/XceslAEY2i0?t=69 (watch the lower end of the wiper blade for the outline of the water wiped away).

Great find, thanks :) - couldn't find any good action shots when I was searching, and nothing that showed off that unusual outline (that I remembered from the Mercedes my family had when I was a boy).

Did you ever find out? My guess is that while it looks like there is a fixed axis with variable extension, the axis of rotation itself is also moving from side to side.

Oh, hey, sorry. I did find out, and it's nothing very complicated: The wiper moves out about 10cms during rotation. That distance, applied to a circle with a radius of 10 cm is a large distortion (the inside track), while applied to the larger outside radius just turns it into a round rectangle.

Video of apparently reverse-engineered model: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGO8B86PZDg

That seems so obvious I wonder why it hasn't been done before. I suppose those wipers costs a bit more since it must include some kind of conducts for liquid and multiple hoses(?).

More parts. Fluid needs travel through flexible and/or hinged parts. Longer hose. Cannot spray fluid without wipe (a big deal in cold weather). Fluid in hoses can be blocked (again, ice) whereas parts in engine compartment are kept warmer. No overspray beyond wiped area. No cross-coverage by multiple sprays in case one becomes blocked. Can the tesla sprays be aimed/adjusted by hand?

It's one of the many tesla features i just shake my head about. It sounds cool but there is good reason the other billion cars on the road went with the simple solutions. Water and wipers are cheap. Dont mess with a good thing.

I think the Tesla Model X does this too. One major downside is needing the service center to replace the windshield wipers.

Since the advantage is minimal this overhead makes them generally more annoying than useful.

Very old Volkswagen beetles used air pressure from the spare tyre instead of an electric washer fluid pump. I remember laughing so hard when I discovered that...

I was a teenager. Now that I'm an engineer, it's not so funny; it's an interesting design trade-off.

Because these windshield wipers get clogged all the time and most people at best just use water and windex which doesn't bode well for precision made spray nozzles.

They also tend to leave a mess at any point where you actually need to use the liquid e.g. when you are driving through sand/dirt or mud but then again most people won't drive their CLX through a swamp or a sandstorm.

> most people at best just use water and windex

Who does that? I've never heard of anyone doing that.

Myself and pretty much anyone I know, could be worse seen people use the shitty soap water buckets at gas stations to refill their wiper fluid...

Wiper fluid $2.84 / gal [0]

Windex $2.72 / L [1]

That is, Windex is roughly 4x as expensive.

Granted, you could be diluting the Windex, but it's already mostly water, and it doesn't have any freeze-proof guarantees to begin with, which wiper fluid does. I think you folks are doing this odd thing to entertain yourselves...

[0] https://www.walmart.com/ip/Rain-X-20F-2-In-1-All-Season-Wash...

[1] https://www.walmart.com/ip/Windex-Original-Glass-More-Cleane...

US prices in Europe and in the ME wiper fluid tends to be more expensive, but in all cases it's not the actual cost but the perceived cost (gas station/service center pricing rather than bigbox stores ala walmart) and laziness.

Is Windex worse for the environment than wiper fluid?

It's just a nozzle integrated in the arm, not part of the wiper blade.

Jaguar had that in 2005 at least.

1986 XJ40 introduced it as far as I can tell. (Used to own an XJ40).

Oldsmobile Achieva in 1991 had it too.

I idn't like it - it's nice to let the cleaner soak into the windshield before tearing up the squeegee part of the wiper blade.

I hate that some modern cars automatically do 3 wipes after you spray, exactly for this reason.

I'm surprised they didn't mention Mercedes-Benz and their monowiper that they used for a while.

As a kid I was fascinated by the monowiper system in our W124 estate! Still the best system imho

I was about to write the same. I quite liked the monowiper.

What do you expect from a US-centric article? Oh, do you remember those cute and niche European imports from Mercedes, the W124?

Do the US regulations mentioned in the article prohibit the monowiper design?

I don't know, but I'm just saying that such articles are basically pretending that "the rest of the world probably does the same as we do in the US".

The W124 was an emblematic and brand-defining car for MB for more than a decade which also introduced this ingenious design, but they will pretend they know European car history by mentioning VW Beetle, Reliant Scimitar and Lancia Stratus.

Remember headlight wipers?

> no two cars seeming to have the same configuration

Have you noticed the rear brakes lights on cars? Absolutely every model of car has a different shape: triangle, concentric circles, polka dot pattern, you name it.

I doubt that anyone is the least bit influenced in their car choice by how cool the brake lights look.

I'd like to think that the car companies avoid making a standardized brake light to put a thorn in the side of after-market parts manufacturers. At least that evil explanation makes economic sense.

In reality, I think that car designers do what they like doing -- making new designs. Even in cases where it makes zero difference to the user. Even in cases where a standardized design would be better for everyone[1].

[1] Because of cost, availability (every garage would stock a standard brake light), detection of the standard rear light pattern by collision avoidance systems.

I doubt that anyone is the least bit influenced in their car choice by how cool the brake lights look.

Of course they are, it's part of the car's styling and car manufacturers spend a lot of money on car design. The shape of the tail lights helps dictate the shape of the car's body.

If you think taillights have no effect on styling, imagine a 1960's Mustang tail light on a modern Tesla:

http://www.oldcarsguide.com/ford/mustang/images/1968-mustang... http://gas2.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/lighted-t.jpg

> I doubt that anyone is the least bit influenced in their car choice by how cool the brake lights look.

Doesn't seem so farfetched to me. For instance, I particularly like the taillights on the latest Honda Civic. A lot of recent BMWs have nice-looking taillights too. And I can recall, as a kid, thinking the taillights on my mom's 1962 Ford Thunderbird were particularly cool, styled as they were to suggest jet engines (at least, that's what they looked like to me at age 7). Oh, and then there were the sequential turn signals on our 1967 Mercury Cougar...

Anyway, taillights are certainly not the only important stylistic element on the car, but I wouldn't dismiss them completely either.

Like or hate the Cadillac Escalade, you have to admit the thin vertical taillights from the bumper almost to the roof certainly evoke their cars from the "tailfin" era, like the 1969 Eldorado.

You’re in luck if you own a McLaren F1, because they standardised their brake lights on the same model used by the Bova Futura bus: http://jalopnik.com/the-mclaren-f1-used-the-rear-lamps-of-a-...

> I doubt that anyone is the least bit influenced in their car choice by how cool the brake lights look.

Have you seen the taillights on Dodge Chargers? http://o.aolcdn.com/dims-global/dims3/GLOB/legacy_thumbnail/...

Or on the Mustangs of that generation?


I don't know if either of those are enough to influence my buying choices, but I know for sure if I was going to get a late-model muscle car, it wouldn't be a Camaro - http://gmauthority.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/2014-...

There are literally huge debates about minor things like this in car magazine reviews, followed by tens of thousands of comments on various automotive forums debating the finer aesthetics of different head or tail light designs. It can get downright vitriolic: one person's beautiful is another's fugly.

A couple years ago I drove a car with very distinctive tail lights (the Mercedes CLA AMG: http://images.caricos.com/m/mercedes-benz/2014_mercedes-benz...

I found the tail lights to be the first thing anyone spoke of when talking about the car - in person most people said they loved them, online many people hated them except for the base of customers that loved the car. And no amount of performance data would convince them to drive the car - the tail lights were THE deal breaker.

I've had similar debates over he colour of mud flaps I had on my old Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution (they were red, on a metallic orange car). Again, people online in enthusiast forums felt I was mentally ill and they would never drive such a monstrosity, it was just a personal preference for me. The colour for them was the deal breaker. http://www.zercustoms.com/news/images/Mitsubishi/Lancer-Evol...

Just like some won't drive a green car even if it has amazing stats.

The moral is: Most people don't think like engineers, for better or worse.

As explained to me by someone who runs a (large, high-end) panel-shop:

In reality its because "Razor Blade Model". Since you can only get the correct lens/housing from the manufacturer, they can charge what they like. Since your insurance is paying, neither you nor the panel-shop give a fuck about the cost. Extremely high margins for the manufacturers. Same goes for bumpers.

When Porsche made an 'affordable' Boxster with the same headlights as a top-of-the-line 911 the snobs that wanted their 911s to be exclusive were upset.

I think people were more likely (or should have been, IMO) upset about the ugliness of the 996-[1] "fried egg" headlights, not that they were the same as the headlights on the first-gen Boxster.

[1] - 996 was the internal model designation for that generation of 911, which was being designed at the same time as the original 986 series Boxster.

Take another look at the back of RVs and motorhomes. Those companies will frequently reuse an existing rear light package with just a change in orientation.

about the idea people can spend entire careers design something like a wiper system. industrial and mechanical engineers never cease to amaze me. part of the reason I am a computer engineer is I didn't have the patience and such for those. the amount people in those fields affect every day life is undervalued and underestimated, nearly everything you see, touch, and use, involves those skills.

as for wipers and windshields, damn people clean your windshield weekly at least. being a motorcyclist I tend to spot certain elements about the cars and people I see on my trips and dirty windshields annoy me and many are dirty on the inside more than outside. that affects your safety and others!

Yes, take a look at them before you go in for an inspection. Lest they tear them and try to gouge you for replacements because they are suddenly streaking.

Not really but I looked at my windshield a lot. Where have all the insects gone? The decline in insect biomass is insane! http://e360.yale.edu/features/insect_numbers_declining_why_i...

There is an interesting movie about the guy who invented the intermittent wiper mechanics called Flash of Genius.

I was planning to watch that tonight on Netflix.


Wow ! What an awesomely informative article !!!

Isn't this stone age technology due for some twenty first century smarts? Teflon glass, anyone?

There is this stuff called "RainX"[1]. You apply it to your windshield and the rain beads off (hydrophobic). You can see really well even in heavy rain without wipers. (My dad used to use it on the family cars last century, and I still use it today).

It works great, though you have to reapply every few months when it wears off. And you can't apply it in the rain, so you have to remember ahead of time....


Rain-X has wiper fluid that reapplies the treatment somehow. I haven't needed to manually reapply in over three years.

Interesting. I'll have to give that a try. Especially since its not super easy to apply the stuff in the first place..

I've used RainX intermittently over the years. It's a bit of a faff to put on and also maintain but when it's working well it is truly fantastic, crystal clear vision in the rain. Downsides are it doesn't work well below 40mph and also it can go foggy sometimes. Brilliant stuff though and well worth using if you know it's going to be very wet.

Did it make you drive faster ? I can sense a backfiring psychological aspect.

I'm eager to try that, and still curious why the industry didn't push for a one-click solution here.

I doubt it made me drive faster, it allowed me to be a lot more relaxed and have better awareness of what was happening outside because I didn't need to concentrate as hard on trying to see through the windscreen. Even with good windscreen wipers in heavy rain or spray they only leave a small clear section so you are working hard just to see. With the RainX the entire windscreen was completely clear so much less strain.

I use Aquapel and it works better at low speeds compared to RainX. And honestly it does make me drive faster in the rain (the tires I run also have a very high rating in the wet). In rain and with a little 'speed' (80-140 km/h), I don't even turn on the wipers

80 km/h is speedy to me; with rain the physics of the car may change a lot; do you feel you're being "edgy" when the soil is wet ?

Well I am driving on paved large highways. If it was a side road or a dirt road, I wouldn't be able to go that 'fast' safely.

I have to admit tho, I drive faster during heavy rain on the highways due to the lack of police. I fell like I am unleashing my hidden "Senna" :)

RainX works well where the rain typically has large drops. It sucks in places where the droplets are smaller because they bead up everywhere but aren't large enough for the wind to push them away quickly. You end up looking through a bunch of microlenses rather than normal rain on the windshield.

Especially brilliant in those situations where you come up behind heavy trucks. Normally you can't see shit for the clouds of water those leviathans kick up. With Rain-X... no problem. (Shit, I sound like a advert, now. How annoying!)

I would suggest Aquapel instead (lasts way longer, water starts flying off at lower speeds). I love it. (http://www.aquapel.com/)

Actually, you are right. A lot of work has gone into developing hydrophobic coatings for cars (windows and bodywork) however they tend to wear off very quickly and so have never taken off.

Take a look on YouTube, some fun videos of cars going through mud and it not sticking one bit.

Here's one: https://youtu.be/TtntUSP-UeM

Those coatings, like NeverWet, put down a surface with very tiny spikes. Water has too much surface tension to get down to the base of the spikes and adhere, so it falls off. The problem is that the spike structure is fragile and wears poorly. It's a cute novelty, but until somebody comes up with a tougher version, not very useful.

It's so nice when you've got fresh rain-X on the windshield though. Doesn't last but one rainy day, but for that one day you feel like you're on the Enterprise with warp drive engaged, all the raindrops streaking away like stars.

Where is the stone age tech? Automotive glass is being constantly improved. Other than being clear and made of some amount of glass, todays windshield is an iphone compared to the telegraphs of 50 years ago. Today's glass no longer shatters, no longer distorts vision, rarely chips and is often even trusted to provide structural support in a crash.

Also heated windscreens/windshields - which are brilliant, so much easier than scraping ice off by hand.

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