back to article Sick of smudges on your car's enormo touchscreen? GM patents potential cure

Are you sick of smudges on those unwieldy touchscreens making their way into modern cars these days? General Motors has filed a patent to clear them using UV light, though don't assume it'll actually ship. Patents don't mean an actual product is forthcoming, of course, but if this one [PDF] makes it to manufacturing GM owners …

  1. gbchew

    Hack to the Future

    I'm marking the square now for "script kiddies made my Big Dumb Truck give me skin cancer" on my precommemorative 2056 El Reg Bingo card.

  2. This post has been deleted by its author

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Great. Not only is 5G going to give me brain disease now my car is going to give me cancer. My dogs are already gay. Where will this madness end?

    If only there was some alternative like maybe a type of material I can use to wipe the screen when it's safe to do so removing the fingerprint smudges. They could give it a name like oh I don't know, a "cloth"? I wonder when someone will invent such a marvellous invention that doesn't cost money or use energy? Come on scientists. You can do it.

    1. quxinot

      Why not an even smarter idea? Maybe skip the distracting screens and provide a car that's actually rewarding to drive, which means drivers pay better attention?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I agree but to be fair satnav is pretty useful though not essential at all.

        Another thought is why are we touching screens when we have voice control?

        1. Gene Cash Silver badge

          Probably because (in my experience) the voice control doesn't work?

          1. Stork

            At times we use Google Maps for navigation, and I find its pronunciation of Portuguese quite distracting (I have English as default language). I wonder how I should mispronounce place names to be understood?

          2. jfm

            I'm convinced Google's voice recognition (and indeed Assistant) are an elaborate but not especially funny practical joke. I'm a British migrant to South Africa, living in Cape Town. In recent weeks I've asked my phone to navigate to a place about ten minutes' drive away. Imagine my surprise when the response was "the fastest route is via the Trans-Saharan Highway. Your journey will take approximately 7 days and 14 hours" (it wanted to take me to somewhere in Britain).

            A few days later, I said "Call Jeannie" (my ex-wife, in my Contacts so that I can discuss childcare arrangements). Without any attempt to check whether it had guessed right before dialling, or even give me a list of possible matches , it out me through to La Trini, a restaurant in Barcelona, Spain (I have never visited the restaurant, the city, or indeed the country). This would indeed have involved a six and a half day journey including a section of the Trans-Sahara Highway, but a two-week round trip drive for dinner seemed a bit excessive…

          3. EricB123 Silver badge

            Top Gear

            Jeremy Clarkson kept telling his new car that he was in Georgia, but the car kept thinking he was in Georgia, USA instead of Georgia the country.

            Shallow car.

        2. SloppyJesse

          > why are we touching screens when we have voice control?

          Did you forget the joke icon?

        3. Version 1.0 Silver badge

          Och, I canna ged Voice Recognition ta work.

        4. JimboSmith Silver badge

          Somebody offered me a lift in their brand new Mercedes S Class a few years ago and showed off by attempting to call someone else using the voice recognition system. Needless to say he was having so much trouble with it I ended up finding and calling the number on his mobile and him taking the call on speakerphone.

      2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Came here to find and upvote this comment.

        A pox on touchscreens. And, no, I don't need them for navigation, either. If I wanted a navigation system built into the car, a physical keyboard would work a hell of a lot better.

  4. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    A better idea

    The UV only kills bugs, it doesn't actually clean the screen.

    I was thinking some sort of rubber blade on an arm that could be wiped across the screen to mechanically remove dirt and clean the screen

    Now to just think of a catchy name....

    1. MatthewSt

      Re: A better idea

      Automatic Remediation of Smudgy Exterior Wiper?

    2. Catkin Silver badge

      Re: A better idea

      Actually, it breaks down grime at a molecular level. It's quite a neat idea with a reasonable history of outdoor use (glass skyscrapers) but the implementation of it inside a vehicle poses the problems covered in the article.

      1. David Nash

        Re: A better idea

        Where do the broken-down molecules go? There must be some residue.

        1. Catkin Silver badge

          Re: A better idea

          They're turned to dust

  5. ChoHag Silver badge

    How about ...

    buttons, levers and knobs?

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: How about ...

      Didn't they have a kids TV show in the 70s?

    2. Intractable Potsherd

      Re: How about ...

      Don't make me nostalgic! I dream of the days you could change the temperature in a car using controls so standardised it didn't matter what make or model you got into...

    3. Martin Summers

      Re: How about ...

      There's enough knobs driving around in cars these days, we don't need more!

      What's that? You didn't mean the human kind? Oh...

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How about ...

      What, those things you can use without taking your eyes off the road?

  6. Spanners Silver badge


    Some people think that the idea of patents is to make money from ideas.

    Although this can happen, the primary purpose things are patented is to prevent other companies/people from using them.

    So, the question that this article makes me wonder is why GM does not want me to have this. If we are lucky, this may be because they have something more suitable than a touch screen. Perhaps they will reinvent the knob?

    1. A random security guy

      Re: Patents

      Not all companies use patents for blocking. And then there are patent trolls. Patent portfolios are revenue generators too. Having seen some of patents get licensed by my former employers, I have come to respect that as a business angle.

      Patents are also an independent way for others to understand what you have done instead of relying on your resume. No method is foolproof, however.

    2. Code For Broke

      Re: Patents

      So the purpose of patents is not to make money, but simply to prevent others from doing so?

      Capitalism is such a contrary God.

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Patents

      And why GM? Did none of the phone/tablet/laptop touchscreens ever have this problem? Did the "bright young things" in that industry not think of this? Where are the "disrupters"? Why is an "incumbent dinosaur" being allowed to get there first?

      1. MJI Silver badge

        Re: Patents

        Why GM? Especially as they flogged off their car plants to PSA.

        Everything is going PSA it appears. Chrysler Europe PSA, GM Europe PSA, Citroen PSA, who is next?

        I have an oldish British made 4x4 and the replacement model has a failing PSA designed engine.

        1. sgp

          Re: Patents

          If it's a land rover you're talking about, can't be worse than the ford puma disaster.

          1. MJI Silver badge

            Re: Patents

            It is.

            Nearly 20 years old as well

            5 cylinder Diesel.

            The replacement model has a V6 which snaps cranks for fun.

            Ford Peugeot joint venture I think.

            Oh and the Transit engine as the replacement in the other car with the 5 cylinder, it was not great either

  7. TimMaher Silver badge

    RoboCop 2

    Reminds me of the advert for “Sunblock 5000”.

    Icon because I’m smearing it on my face.

    1. Roj Blake Silver badge

      Re: RoboCop 2

      I'd buy that for a dollar.

  8. TheProf

    Self-cleaning you say?

    Now you just have to leave the sunroof open to allow the rain it to do its job.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: Self-cleaning you say?

      It's even worse than you think.

      They are using that Pilkington glass coating.

      The only "innovation" claimed is to put the UV light source behind the screen - a proposal that is obvious to anyone skilled in the art, as is the minor detail that it would quickly destroy the OLED/LCD panel, and possibly touch conductors.

      It's unlikely this patent will ever be feasible to implement during its lifetime.

      I'm reasonably sure the "lit from exterior" mode that already work is already embodied in real products.

  9. Ball boy Silver badge

    Updated quote

    "It's 106 miles to Chicago, we have a full tank of gas, half a packet of cigarettes, it's dark and we're wearing sunglasses"

    "Hate it. We're driving the new GM"

    With apologies to the Blues Brothers.

  10. Jan 0 Silver badge

    Melting cars

    Will this depolymerise any of the plastics facing the screen?

  11. Eecahmap

    Where will those compounds go?

    I picture this process sublimating those smudges into the car's interior air. Where will they redeposit?

    Will other surfaces eventually become grimy and sticky from what is driven away from the touchscreen?

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: Where will those compounds go?

      IIRC, it burns them into dust, and generally requires rain to actually wash it off.

      So your touchscreen will become exceedingly dusty.

  12. Updraft102

    How about solving it by not having a touchscreen in a car at all?

    If you can't operate it by feel, replace it with something that can.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      The most obvious solution (to the government regulators) is not to ban the touch screens as a driver distraction, but to mandate that the driver is nor allowed to look at or touch it while in motion. Therefore a co-driver must sit with the driver to operate those controls. If you don't have a passenger, you must employ a fully trained and government approved/licenced co-driver. For safety reasons of course with the added benefits of the job creation aspects.

      1. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid Silver badge

        Make touch screens illegal in cars?

        Germany are already on the case.

        TL;DR A driver in Germany was adjusting the wiper speed in a Tesla, which meant using the touch screen. Got distracted, crashed, got fined for using a touch screen in a car. The fact that it was built into the car made no difference.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Make touch screens illegal in cars?

          Adjusting the wiper speed via a touchscreen? I'm expecting the bottom to drop out of the second hand Tesla market in a couple of years (when my old car is probably going to need replacing with something a few years newer) but there's another reason I'll be looking for something other than a Tesla when I finally go electric....

        2. David Nash

          Re: Make touch screens illegal in cars?

          Yeah the wiper screen is relatively simple, the one I hate is the air recirculation control. If it's on a touch screen it should be permanently showing, like a real button is. Otherwise yes it's too much of a distraction.

  13. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    Even were you do have phisical controls...

    They are placed so that you can't find them by feel and have to look away from the view ahead - how they ever got away with that without H&S jumping al over them is one of life's mysteries.

  14. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    My car has clean, unsmudged surfaces

    It's using a revolutionary new idea : buttons.

    Actual, physical buttons to control things.

    No smudges there.

    1. Code For Broke

      Re: My car has clean, unsmudged surfaces

      Actually, my nearly-20-year-old Toyota (no touchscreen, I was chuffed that it had an LCD odometer back when) now has a fine patina on most of the commonly used buttons and switches. I've tried to wipe it off and then ask myself why I'm even bothering. "It's a nearly-20-year-old Toyota..." (which I'd dare say is about 15 years older than most GM cars ever get to be.)

      Yea, you GM-loving downvoters? Bring it!!!

      1. Intractable Potsherd

        Re: My car has clean, unsmudged surfaces

        "GM loving" is a contradiction in terms, isn't it?

      2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: My car has clean, unsmudged surfaces

        My Toyota is a 1992 Truck (that's the actual model name, according to the manual). I bought it a few years ago. It's never failed to start on the first attempt, and I've yet to get around to doing any significant maintenance on it. 4WD works great. Air conditioning still works. Right side channel on the stereo is out, but I think that's the head unit (which is aftermarket).

        It's not fast, but man, I love those old, over-built Toyotas.

  15. Kev99 Silver badge

    How about getting rid of those d----d touch screens all together?

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      re: How About

      Sorry but that ship has sailed.

      If you take your statement to its logical conclusion then ALL touchscreens are headed for recycling. Almost all Mobile Phones, Tablets and a host of other gadgets are doomed for landfill.

      It is not only touchscreens that are on the chopping block. My Hob, oven, dishwasher and washing machine all use touch sensitive controls.

      Touch is here to stay.

      While I hope that Apple does not make a Touchscreen Mac, if they do then I will try my hardest not use it. If I want to touch control something then my iPhone is right there. Keeping my screens free of fingerprints is hard enough as it is without the temptation that a touchscreen would present

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Re: re: How About

        Touch in a hob and oven makes sense.

        It's far easier to clean grease off a smooth, unbroken surface than buttons and knobs, and you can spend the time to look for the buttons without endangering other kitchen users.

        The same is not true of a vehicle...

        1. Maventi

          Re: re: How About

          Try setting the timer or clock on a Bosch oven made within the last 12 or so years. Then come back and tell me with a straight face that touch on kitchen appliances is a good idea.

          1. Richard 12 Silver badge

            Re: re: How About

            They were awful before, the lack of moving parts hasn't made any difference.

        2. Richard Pennington 1

          Re: re: How About

          Touch for a hob or an oven makes sense only if you keep the touchy bits and the hot bits well separated.

        3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: re: How About

          Touch in a hob and oven makes sense.

          For the oven controls perhaps. For the stovetop I'll disagree. Knobs are easy to find quickly without looking and trivial to operate. With very little experience it doesn't require any conscious supervision at all.

          1. Chris 239

            Re: re: How About

            Totally agree, touch controls on a hob (what we call stove top in UK) are frustrating.

            Recently was forced to use a hob with touch controls where if you had a large fry pan on one of the rings and had the handle toward you it would be over the main on/off control and the handle would turn off the whole hob. Basically the on/off button was too sensitive and to add insult the other buttons not sensitive enough so would only respond after repeated presses and swearing!

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: re: How About

        Someone in IT decreed that everyone should be issued with a new MS Surface laptop (no, not tablet).

        Apart from the fact that it's tiny, only has a sigle USB and USB-C connector, it also has the shiniest screen going... and it's touchscreen, so you have to resist the urge to wipe that smudge or speck of dust off the screen!!!!!!!

        (I reckon one of the IT guys placed a drunken order on eBay and found they couldn't back out)

    2. ITS Retired

      Those back-up cameras make backing up much safer. So there is that. As for most of the rest of it, I agree, knobs are better.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        The back-up camera is one of very few innovations in automobile controls from recent years that I approve of. Maybe blind-spot indicators, though it's hard to say because my car doesn't have them, and I've never had an issue with my car's blind spots. (I have my wing mirrors adjusted properly, which certainly helps.)

        I hate adaptive cruise control (and fortunately don't have it in my current car). My car has a rain-sensing mode for the windshield wipers, which I've used a few times (precipitation tends to be very local around here) but wouldn't miss if it were gone. Auto stop/start? Don't like it, don't need it. Self-parking? Learned helplessness. Lane following / departure warning? Obnoxious. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto? There's no fucking way I'm linking my phone to my car. And so on with most of the modern tech.

        1. Caver_Dave Silver badge

          I will add auto dipping headlights. About 2 seconds too late on both dipping and un-dipping over a human.

        2. MJI Silver badge

          Self Parking

          I had trouble parking recently (LC or CFS not sure which as no muscle pain, just very weak).

          I just wanted to dump my car in the middle of road.

          Mentioed it to collegues, one said his car self parks.

          But no it does not drive around a carpark hunting that spot.

  16. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. CatWithChainsaw

      Re: Or ...

      So now in addition to everything else, I need a pair of gloves that keep my car's distracting touchscreen immaculate and that are made so touchscreens will react to touch through the glove. And since my hands are on the steering wheel except for when I'm touching the touch screen, they need to be warm enough in the winter but also breathable enough in the summer to not drown my hands in sweat. In that case, perhaps I need TWO pairs of gloves, for different seasons. Or maybe twelve, since fashions are so capricious. And they all need to stay in the car to avoid getting dirty, or else I'll just smudge the touchscreen with some dirt other than finger oils.

      All I wanted to do... was change the radio station.

      1. Spazturtle Silver badge

        Re: Or ...

        "And they all need to stay in the car to avoid getting dirty,"

        That's fine since your car has an entire storage space dedicated to storing gloves.

        1. Intractable Potsherd

          Re: Or ...

          You don't have children, do you?

        2. Richard 12 Silver badge

          Re: Or ...

          Gloves fit in yours?

          Mine will just about take a couple of receipts, if I fold them carefully.

          To be fair, the other storage cupboards will take a small møøse.

    2. Intractable Potsherd

      Re: Or ...

      Are you a manufacturer or retailer of driving gloves, by any chance?

  17. Giles C Silver badge

    Another device only one manufacturer has

    Going slightly off topic here but I assume Ford owns the patent on electrically heated windscreens, the best device for getting driving in cold weather made.

    I don’t have them on my normal car (BMW) but I do have one on my Tiger kit car - yes I know it sounds odd but the car with no roof, door, or any other glass rather than the windscreen has a heated window.

    I assume there is some patent reason as it makes getting going in colder weather a lot easier but I have never seen a non ford (production) car with one….

    1. Intractable Potsherd

      Re: Another device only one manufacturer has

      I've wondered that myself, but the patent must be well and truly expired by now. Whatever the reason, I wish other manufacturers would fit them - they are the only reason I'd even consider a Ford.

      1. MJI Silver badge

        Re: Another device only one manufacturer has

        pretty sure it expired years ago.

        BEst car patent was Volvo with seatbelts and it was left open so everyone could fit them royalty free

    2. Martin Summers

      Re: Another device only one manufacturer has

      My Skoda had the option of having one, I just didn't want to pay the silly money extra for it. So I think they will be available on more cars soon. I do miss it though and that was on my 2001 Mondeo!

    3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Another device only one manufacturer has

      My 2015 Volvo has an electrically heated windscreen. It's convenient, but I owned cars for years in snow-and-ice country without it, so I can't pretend it's necessary.

      Honestly, probably the most useful part of the "climate package" on my car is the heated windshield-washer-fluid nozzles, because when the windshield gets loaded up with road salt, it's rather a pain in the ass if you can't wash it without stopping and getting out of the car. And the most luxurious part of the package, in my opinion, is the heated steering wheel. Yeah, heated seats are nice, but the heated steering wheel is luxurious. I haven't put driving gloves on since I got that car.

  18. darklord

    Self cleaning glass hmm takes me back to the early 80s on tomorrows world

    Nothing new Self cleaning glass has been around for donkeys years. Motorcyclists have been using sprays that do this on their visors and its the same tech used on paint work to keep it clean.

    How bout removing these huge silly tablets from cars in the first place. why do i need a 10 " tablet nailed to the dash. I'm waiting for them to become illegal to use on the move.

    So once you engage gear the screen completely blanks and all functions locked out. may prevent a few electric scooters being knocked off the road

    1. Mike 137 Silver badge

      Re: Self cleaning glass hmm takes me back to the early 80s on tomorrows world

      "why do i need a 10 " tablet nailed to the dash"

      You don't. The manufacturer does because:

      [a] a touch screen for all controls is cheaper than the alternative set of physical buttons and switches;

      [b] when the controls dev team screws up, it's possible to fix the problem without a recall if all the controls are virtual.

      It's a very long time since goods were designed for use. They're designed for simplicity of manufacture and sale at maximum proft. You're just the wallet.

  19. Plest Silver badge

    Dear Lord. See? This is what is wrong today!

    I got a solution for greasy screens...

    1. Login to Amazon

    2. Order 10 small microfibre cloths for a £5

    3. Wait for delivery

    4. Take cloth and wipe screen to remove greasy smudges.

    5. Sit back with a smug expression at finding a cheap, simple solution to what is basically a non-problem!

  20. Eclectic Man Silver badge


    Ahem, readers of an adventurous persuasion may be interested to know that certain bodily substances fluoresce in UV light. So if you are thinking of using your vehicle for some extra-curricular activities, you may need to be exceptionally effective at cleaning up afterwards.

    1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Re: Fluorescence

      Don't worry, the UV-C radiation is deadly anyway. But you go blind first. (I think the device is meant to operate when no one is in the car.)

      UV also doesn't pass through glass, I think.

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