Peering into the vastness below our feet seem to hold an attraction for many people-whether you are a skydiver or bungee jumper, or Felix Baumgartner who leaped into history with his record breaking jump from the earth’s stratosphere, human beings certainly have some innate need to fly above it all, if only for seconds on end. For the rest of us who may just enjoy the views without the need to risk life and limb, new twists to a very old technology is increasingly allowing us the opportunity to thrill seek without suiting up.
Glass was first invented around 3000 BC by the Sumerians. It has sure come a long way since then and its immediate future seems destined to make it an even more valuable commodity to humans and the earth. What the Sumerians and the rest of us never envisioned were the many uses glass has spawned.
One hundred twenty people at a time can walk out over the edge of the Grand Canyon and see through their feet all the way to the canyon floor 800 ft (240m) below thanks to a low iron glass with a specially made interlayer (by Dupont Sentry) designed by Saint-Gobain Diamant. The railings are formed by thinner layered, bent glass. The technical achievement of merely constructing the u-shaped Skywalk is significant itself, but to think that glass panes can support a steady stream of weight cantilevered precariously off a canyon wall is mind bending.
Now, take the skywalk a step further and higher. The world’s highest residential tower, the Eureka, looks down on Melbourne in Victoria, Australia from its tallest point at 975 ft. (297.3m). Completed in 2006, the Eureka is home to The Edge. Just the name may inspire armchair thrill seekers to check it out.
The Edge is a glass box that extends out from the 88th floor of the Eureka Towers. After entering the box, the structure mechanically extends out 10 feet (3m) to a startling 935 ft (300m) above the ground. When you enter the box, the glass is opaque but as it extends outward, the glass turns clear. Certainly, not a place for those afraid of heights, as the world opens all around you.
The Edge utilizes smart glass technology. The phrase “smart glass” is actually used for a variety of technologies which work in different ways, but they are all designed to automatically adjust to outside conditions such as light and temperature. These changes in the ambient environment cause the glass to change in translucency, therefore lessening the need for heating or cooling while allowing for full viewing.
Though it is not the only smart glass in use today, The Edge is certainly a notable example. Also known as intelligent glass, dynamic glass and switchable glass, the single most identifiable feature is its’ ability to phase from opacity to translucency almost as fast as it takes for you to put one step out onto the Skywalk. Beyond mere thrill seeking, smart glass is increasingly going to be part of our everyday world in the not-too-distant future.