The train experience is not well known for a highly connective experience. Mobile accessibility is a challenge because typical train cars are constructed from metal and bear heavy glass windows. Not only does the train car lose heat through the windows but the metal construction of the car can block microwave waves, creating a Faraday cage that results in intermittent or spotty cell phone reception and puts a damper on the passenger experience. Thankfully, a team of researchers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale of Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland have developed a new material that is being installed on regional train systems and will allow mobile signals to pass through glass while simultaneously reflecting heat waves to improve insulation and reduce energy costs.
The new material is developed using a high precision laser to engrave the glass structure with an ultra-thin metal layer or “coating”. This special laser-treated coating is invisible to the eye and combats the Faraday cage effect created by the train car structure by allowing both electromagnetic waves and visible light to pass through while consecutively reflecting reflect heat waves. It improves thermal insulation thereby reducing energy costs and additionally improves mobile accessibility to meet the demands of today’s connected crowds.
To test the glass and its energy efficiency, the team partnered up with Bern–Lötschberg–Simplon (BLS) railway company to install the new windows throughout a NINA-type self-propelled regional train. Field tests were successful and a larger scale installation is scheduled to begin next month. Replacing the train windows with this new glass material will improve the passenger experience, eliminate the need for expensive signal repeated, and will create additional savings on energy costs with improved insulating properties. The technology could also be applied to larger scale buildings where internet connectivity is challenged by pre-existing building materials.