Corning's glass-full concept car

This car's decked out in Gorilla Glass
This car's decked out in Gorilla Glass

Corning's "Connected Concept Car" has a dashboard that's made entirely of glass. This might seem like a perfectly horrible and dangerous idea -- except that it actually isn't horrible, and Corning assures me it's perfectly safe.

Corning brought the drivable concept car to New York City to show it off to investors. The car's dashboard is made mostly from Gorilla Glass, the same sort of glass that's used to make Apple's (AAPL) iPhone screens. There's Gorilla Glass all along the dashboard and flowing down between the seats.

There's even a pane of Gorilla Glass in the center of the steering wheel. OK, that sounds dangerous.

But an airbag would keep you from ever hitting that glass panel in a crash, a Corning spokesperson told me. Also, when Gorilla Glass does break, it doesn't shatter into dangerous knife-like shards that would present a real hazard in a wreck.

The car's glass center console is made possible by a thin layer of Gorilla Glass that is weirdly flexible. Thanks to the the glass's inherent strength a thin sheet of it, at room temperature, bends like a sheet of plastic. That made it easier to create continuous glass shapes that can bend around complex contours. (Corning also displayed separate functional interior mock-up in which the dashboard and center console were a single, continuous piece.)

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The most notable thing about the dashboard is probably that the displays are right there on the surface, not sunk down into the dashboard or covered by overhanging shades to protect them from sunlight. That's because, according to Corning, the displays are bright and clear enough to see even in bright daylight and they aren't prone to damage or discoloration from the sun.

corning concept car dash
Corning Gorilla Glass is used on the dashboard and in the steering wheel of this concept car.

The most obvious automotive application for Gorilla Glass -- or any glass, really -- is in windows and windshields. In fact, the Ford GT supercar uses Gorilla Glass for its windshield and back window. Because it's so strong, a windshield made from the stuff can be much thinner and lighter than a windshield made from common soda-lime glass, according to Corning (GLW).

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Since it's so strong, the Gorilla Glass windshield will be less prone to cracking when hit by a stone. Also, when ordinary glass gets hit by a pebble, it tends to make a tiny crater that sends a spray of glass flakes into the cabin. A Gorilla Glass windshield will be much less prone to crack in the first place but, if it does, little bits will fly off outside rather than inside the cabin, according to a Corning demonstration, making it safer for occupants.

Driving Ford's supercar for the few
Driving Ford's supercar for the few

The car's roof is also glass and, at the touch of a button, can go from being clear to dark or even opaque. That's a feature that's been available on some high-end luxury cars for a few years.

Gorilla Glass's biggest problem, for now, is its cost. Regular glass still costs a lot less. For it's part, Ford (F) says Gorilla Glass windows make sense on a $450,000 limited production car like the GT but, as costs come down, it could appear on more mainstream cars and SUVs in the future.

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