Tesla is making a windshield zapper…will it ever end?

Tesla has built a reputation for its bizarre inventions whose sole purpose seems to be claiming status for the owner. This one is no different.

Nobody enjoys having bug remains, bird droppings, or tree sap all over their windshield. Normally a few rounds of washing the windshield with the wipers or using the squeegee at a gas station will do the trick––or even going through the car wash if it’s really stubborn. But this wasn’t good enough for Tesla.

After working on this project for two years, Tesla finally obtained a patent on its laser windshield wipers, and they are just what they sound like.

About the Laser Wipers

Instead of a piece of plastic and rubber that just smears whatever is on your windshield, the lasers would eradicate the evidence by zapping it off. They are supposed to be more effective and fully automatic to be compatible with Tesla’s coming autopilot function. In fact, it might even be necessary.

For autopilot to work, the car has to be aware of its surroundings. That requires cameras. One place they plan to have cameras is just behind the windshield facing forward. If debris on the windshield blocks them, that could cause problems to the autopilot system. It’s the equivalent of driving and having a big speck on the lens of your glasses or sunglasses. It’s not safe. That being said, Tesla’s solution poses other problems.

The idea of having a laser beam shooting at the glass I look through for driving isn’t the most comforting, but Tesla seems to be confident that won’t be a problem. It has added extra coatings to the glass to detect zappable debris on the windshield and to help protect the driver and passengers from the laser beam. The laser is also calibrated to a depth less than the thickness of the glass, so it shouldn’t harm anyone on the other side.

Will They Succeed?

While that may be, it seems many people are nervous for this to come out. Innovation is always exciting, but it can also be unnerving and even scary at times. Sometimes “new” is the best thing that can happen to an industry, and sometimes the market decides “new” wasn’t necessary. The question is, will Tesla be able to convince its market this is something worth paying for? 

Tesla’s success in this endeavor will likely depend on how effective the lasers actually are. If they work well in keeping windshields clean in areas with lots of bugs and birds, it will pique people’s interest. But the first lawsuit about damaged eyes or an accident involving the lasers’ interfering with driving will be the test. If that happens, people will likely give it up pretty easily.

Laser wipers seem to have been in the cards since at least 2019, however. Tesla had come out with its Cybertruck which, much to the surprise of the public, showed no wipers at all. It’s a bold move that shouts confidence in the success of the product it had yet to develop at the time. Now that it has the patent, we can likely expect production to start soon.

Potential Problems

Distracted drivers is one concern I have about these wipers and their practical use. I want to present you with two scenarios.

In the first, you are driving down the road at 70 miles per hour, keeping up with traffic. Suddenly you hit a large bug that leaves a mark. It jolts you, but you quickly realize what happened and you continue to focus on the road. Again, you see something out of the corner of your eye. This time, it’s a red beam coming from your car, skimming your windshield and tinting it red for the moment. After a little bit, the remains of that poor insect seem to slowly disappear from the windshield. Afterward, your windshield is clearer, but you have now been distracted while driving for the last 60 seconds, at least. That is Scenario Number 1.

Scenario Number 2 has you driving and suddenly seeing laser beams covering a car behind you. A glance in the rearview mirror would have you confused at best. It would likely spark your curiosity, causing you to look in the rearview mirror for longer than usual, trying to figure out what is going on with that car behind you. In the meantime, anything at all could be happening in front of you––including a sudden backup at the beginning of rush hour. That’s Scenario Number 2.

These are a couple of my concerns about the laser windshield zappers. All in all, I’m interested in how well they work. Will they gain popularity as the new norm among fancy car brands, or will they fizzle out as a nice idea with no basis for practical use? Would you try it?