If you were to hear the phrase "glass floor," you'd probably picture something like this, right? Like a glass-bottomed boat, except that you're actually inside, and you're not sitting next to someone's seasick cousin, and you mostly just have a view of your downstairs neighbor's mismatched furniture and it's kind of awkward to see them hanging out all of the time, especially when you catch them looking at the bottoms of your feet and couch and the ugly electrical conduits that run right through the middle of the floor. In fact, it sounded cool at first but now it doesn't seem like a very good idea at all... and that's not even considering the corollary that "one man's glass floor is another man's glass ceiling," which seems vaguely related to the fact that skirts and dresses wouldn't be options for women who live in houses with glass floors.
But wait: you assumed that by "glass floor," I meant "clear floor," which isn't necessarily the case. Indeed, a new flooring product from Germany's ASB Systembau GMBH boasts a semi-opaque ceramic finish to the effect that "the floor does not reflect too much to be a distraction but still gives a slight reflection which compares to the effect marble has on the eye." Billed as "the most advanced flooring system in the world," the ASB GlassFloor is a system in which reinforced glass panels are set on an aluminum substructure that can be embedded with lighting elements.
Originally designed for squash courts, the surface is designed to emulate hardwood courts with the advantage of flexible lane lines and markings for multipurpose gymnasiums, meeting European regulations for a variety of indoor sports, from badminton to volleyball. However, I was most interested to learn that the ASB GlassFloor can display video as well. "Video messages or scoreboards under the floor are only the beginning. The whole surface can be turned into one big screen. The possibilities for presentation and advertising are as versatile and innovative as ever seen before."
But the visual aspect isn't the only selling point of the flooring system: the company duly notes the durability of the panels, developed by longtime glass manufacturer Kinon Porz.
The floor is made from tempered security glass and can withstand enormous impact. The panels are made from two specially-treated glass plates held together by a 2mm PVB safety layer. The glass panels can be produced to a size larger than 2×2 metres and make the floor longer lasting than any conventional floor. This is why in 2007 we have been able to install the first open air squash court on a cruise ship, withstanding the impact of sea water and perpetual movement over years.
The surface of the glass undergoes several special treatments to achieve ideal elasticity, friction and reflection of light. After years of extensive testing we have reached a result where the floor does not reflect too much to be a distraction but still gives a slight reflection which compares to the effect marble has on the eye. Also deflection and friction of the floor achieve equal or better results than conventional sport floors. The floor is ISO and EN certified. The same treatment that ensures the dim reflection also causes scratches to remain invisible. The surface can be in almost any colour you like. The colour of the floor is determined by special foil coat applied to the bottom of the floor and can be changed even after years.
To date, ASB has supplied more than 15 major squash tournaments with a glass floor. The biggest project yet is a 500m2 sports floor (displayed above) in use daily at a German school. The floor has also withstood long term outdoor tests without any signs of aging.
Meanwhile, in the bounce test, I'm seeing that the balls bounce slightly higher on the ASB GlassFloor; indeed, they note that "our glass floor is more elastic than most wooden floors." In other words, it has a higher coefficient of restitution (yep, I found that term by searching for 'bounciness') than traditional parquet, which may or may not be an issue for athletes who are used to old-fashioned floors.
To their credit, ASB has taken pains to recreate hardwood floors as closely as possible. Just as they were able to achieve a semi-matte finish with a special etching treatment, "the friction on the glass is controlled by burnt-in ceramic dots. The quantity and size of these dots has been adjusted to meet the friction values of traditional sports floors. The surface we created provides the right anti-slip protection but will not hurt when players dive for a ball."
Besides its obvious alternate use for advertising, I was also interested to learn that ASB GlassFloor envisions "completely new sports only playable with glowing marking lines." The prospect of "randomly appearing" virtual barriers sounds a bit farfetched to me, but I concede that a backlight-enabled floor would certainly have plenty of interactive applications, especially in public spaces such as museums and convention centers... or even just in an IKEA: Imagine being able to conjure a map with directions and distances to points of interest, using, say, a smartphone application. And speaking of Tron, I can't help but wonder if it would be possible to make a velodrome with this flooring system...