Students develop electrochromism goggles

N-Ski-Google-Team Colby Patterson

When six students from the U got together at the beginning of the semester to work on what was described as a “small class project,” they did not known just how big that “small” project would become.

The students, all juniors in materials science and engineering, recently won a total of $1,100 from the Student Entrepreneurship Club and $1,000 of private funding from professional skier Matthew Burton for their innovative project — a unique pair of ski goggles.

The project started in an introduction to ceramics class. Taylor Sparks, a professor in materials science, encouraged his students to develop something for the Utah Entrepreneurship Club. The six students, who were all friends before the project, soon banded together to solve a common problem they had often encountered while skiing and snowboarding.

Changing weather can cause visualization problems when the light gets flat on the slopes. The poor lighting makes it difficult to navigate down the mountain because of minimal contrast to help people see bumps or sudden inclines. Currently, the common solution for changing light is to manually switch the goggle lenses to different tints, but removable lenses can be expensive — varying between $20 and $70 a piece.

Electrochrome, which the students used in their project, is designed to provide adjustable visibility without the inconvenience of expensive removable lenses. Electrochrome allows the user to automatically adjust the tint of the lens by sliding a switch attached to the goggle strap. This switch changes the voltage in the lens, which adjusts the opacity of the goggles.

This technique, called electrochromism, has already been used commercially in a variety of products, such as “smart glass” windows in vehicles and hotels, equipped with the ability to darken to ensure privacy. Despite its developed use, electrochromism has not become mainstream in ski goggles.

Carina Hahn, one of the students in the project, said she is not sure why.

“That’s what we can’t figure out,” Hahn said.

While several small European ski companies had created a goggle using an electrochromatic lens, they had never produced it on a large scale. Many of the students on the Electrochrome development team enjoy skiing and snowboarding and admit their love of snow sports added to their desire to see Electrochrome come to life.

The students are currently pursuing a business license and working to patent their idea. They thank Sparks for getting them started.

“Our professor, Dr. Sparks, had us do this and pushed us towards it. And if engineering did that more often it would be much, much more helpful for all engineers,” said Nate Kester, one of the participants. “We didn’t know that much about business and about any of this stuff before being pushed towards it, and many professors don’t do that.”

If Electrochrome proves popular with snow goggles, the team plans to expand into the motor sports industry. They would also like to start their own company.

j.peterson@chronicle.utah.edu