Source: Barile et al., 2017

Smart windows have been around for a few years, installed on buildings and high-tech airplanes. But complaints abound: they take too long to dim, they don't go fully dark, they're expensive, they become less responsive over time and when they're not dim they tint everything blue.

A new prototype developed at Stanford hopes to solve these problems, per a write-up in the journal Joule.

How they did it: The researchers created a metal ion containing gel that can be applied to windows. When electricity runs through the gel, it changes tint. The current doesn't need to stay on to keep the windows dark.

Why it matters: The researchers estimate that self-dimming windows, when applied to houses, can save 20% in heating costs. They also see applications for electric cars, where less light means less air conditioning, and longer driving times per charge. The technology could also be applied to glasses, to create instant, controllable transition lenses.

Right now these windows are tiny, but Christopher Barile, who worked on the project and is now at the University of Nevada, Reno, tells Axios that they're working on scaling the technology up. "In a few years we hope to have 1 square foot windows," he says. "After that, it's probably beyond the academic realm. The private sector will make them bigger."

It's worth noting that Gentex, the company that makes the dimmable windows on Boeing 787s, is developing a third generation of their technology that they say dims faster and goes darker than the current models.

Go deeper

Congress' next moves to rein in Big Tech

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

After grilling the CEOs of Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple last week, members of Congress are grappling with whether to accuse any of the firms of illegal anticompetitive behavior, to propose updating federal antitrust laws — or both.

The big picture: Congress is just one arm of government making the case against these companies. Google is expected to be the first of the firms to face possible antitrust litigation from the Justice Department before summer's end, but all four face a full-court press of investigations by DOJ, the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general.

Fauci: Coronavirus task force to examine aerosolized spread

A sneeze. Photo: Maartje van Caspel/Getty Images

The White House coronavirus task force will examine more closely just how much SARS-CoV-2 might be transmitted via aerosols, and not just from droplets, NIAID director Anthony Fauci said Wednesday at an online forum sponsored by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Why it matters: The longer the coronavirus can remain infectious in the air, the more likely it can infect people, particularly indoors — leading to the possible need to alter air filtration and circulation within buildings.

The next wave to hit Main Street

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Call it the great retail wash. A wave of defaults, bankruptcies and evictions expected in cities across the U.S. is poised to remake the retail landscape across the country, but there may be some upside for consumers and small businesses.

Why it matters: Rather than an overnight descent into a collection of urban wastelands full of Starbucks, Amazon fulfillment centers, Chase bank branches and nothing else, the coronavirus pandemic and resulting retail apocalypse may just mean that, in major U.S. cities, less is more.