Gentex: Mirrors and Much, Much More

That rear-view mirror you have in your vehicle? It was probably made by Gentex Corp., a company on the west side of Michigan that completely dominates the market

And if you have a Homelink button that is fitted within the housing of that mirror (or elsewhere, for that matter), know that Homelink is a Gentex development.

If you’ve been in a Cadillac CT6 and saw that the rear-view mirror was not just a reflective surface but through activation was transformed into a video monitor showing what is behind the car even if there happens to be members of an NBA team sitting in the backseat and consequently obstructing the view, know that that was a Gentex development.

Gentex mirror that is both a typical reflective type as well as a video screen fed by a back-mounted camera. (Image: Gentex)

The company, which started out as a provider of smoke detectors, has become an instrumental part of safe vehicle operation (if you’ve ever tried to drive without your mirrors, you know that it is a dodgy situation—at best).

One of the things that’s interesting about Gentex is that while it has expertise in glass processing (no surpsie), it has extended its range to accommodate capabilities in electronics and microelectronics, software, chemistry, sensors and more.

This, explains Neil Boehm, chief technology officer, is driving the company to develop things that go well beyond what might be expected.

For example, imagine when there are shared autonomous vehicles. Nowadays, although there is a reduced number of people who smoke (and even vaping has taken a bit of a downward turn), let’s say that there is someone in an AV—one that you might be the next in line to get—who lights up a stogie. Boehm says that they’ve taken their knowhow in the smoke detector arena and have developed a system that can be embedded in the HVAC system: Smoke is detected and—remember, there’s that electronics capability (that goes well beyond Homelink)–a message is automatically sent to the AV service provider, which then knows it may have to bring that vehicle back to the depot. And another message—possibility along with the notification of a fine—can be sent to the phone of the cigar smoker.

Boehm talks about these and other developments (e.g., electrochromatic windows; V2I toll and gas pump paying technology; nanofibers that can detect explosives [think of an AV being used as a mobile bomb—an unfortunate thing to have to consider]) on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Lindsay Brooke, editor-in-chief at SAE International, and me. Gentex is obviously a company that is leveraging its people’s imaginations as well as the developed technologies.

McElroy, Brooke and I also talk about an array of other subjects, including Microsoft’s partnership with General Motors on the Cruise AV program, whether Apple is going to get into the automobile business and what company might manufacture the vehicle, and the implications of the microchip shortage on the auto industry, which has led to the stoppage of production at plants the world over, and something that may have implications going forward for the auto industry.

And you can see the show here. —gsv