BEFORE engineers dreamed of eliminating drivers in cars, they imagined losing side mirrors first. They are ugly, create aerodynamic drag, and the associated blind spots are the bane of parking challenged drivers everywhere. We are now seeing more and more use of video and cameras to improve driver’s visibility, such as the Land Rover Transparent Trailer and Virtual Windscreen assist systems, the life span of the humble door mirror has been marked for some time.
Ok I hear you say, great for the Chelsea tractor but what about us old school mud pluggers who bash and break them from time to time, either at work or play. Well its the same old story, manufacturers in their haste to chase technology have forgotten about the grass roots of what the vehicle is used for, the more frequent damage possibilities and cost of these repairs to the common man. Unfortunately we have to accept that it is coming under the banner of development …
A mirror removal solution looks closer than ever now to finally stripping cars of their ears, as many automakers are demonstrating video systems that replace the side mirror with cameras and screens.
Continental, a major parts and systems supplier to manufacturers calls them digital mirrors.
“There’s significant noise reduction, and a potential for CO2 reduction due to reduced drag and improved fuel economy,” said Dean McConnell, director of customer programs for advanced driver assistance systems at Continental. “There is also the increased field of view.”
In a customized Mercedes-Benz CLS, Continental demonstrated how its system would work. Thumb-size video cameras on the exterior of the car replace the side-mounted mirrors and use interior screens on the left and right side of the dashboard to deliver views of what is next to and behind the car.
The screens are near to where a driver would normally look to check the mirrors, plus the camera views are wider than what a physical mirror can provide, also eliminating the blind spots along the side of the car. The cameras, can automatically adjust to reduce glare from sunlight or increase brightness at night and are also helpful in tight parking maneuvering.
Other automakers have developed a system that together with a camera positioned just above the rear window allows the three views to be displayed on a high-resolution monitor that replaces the rearview mirror. A glance up gives the driver a picture of what is beside and behind the vehicle on a virtual panoramic rear view that electronically stitches all three camera images into a seamless view resulting in a live image as it appears without any obstructive vision behind the driver.
Road testing of the mirror-less systems is expected in Europe this year, quickly followed by additional testing in Asia.
Daimler AG, parent company of Mercedes-Benz, is already testing a couple of autonomous truck and trailers in Nevada that use large high-definition screens instead of side mirrors.
Rearview cameras provide a precedent. Those that eliminate the blind spots directly behind vehicles are already deemed a significant safety improvement and will be mandatory in cars and light trucks in the United States by 2018.
But there aren’t any definitive studies as yet of side cameras.
Using cameras instead of physical mirrors could also end dangling damaged mirrors. To replace a typical mirror, which features built-in defrost, turn signal and blind spot sensors can be expensive.
Mr. McConnell at Continental noted potential savings in building cars that no longer need the structural support for side-mounted mirrors.
Still, the mirror-less demonstrations from Daimler, BMW and Continental show that the systems will present a challenge to drivers, as digital mirrors require training and practice to use.
Looking up into the rearview mirror, for example, to see what is beside you in the test cars todate, is not instinctive for a driver trained to perform side to side and over shoulder checks.
Further refinements need to be worked out, too, for example the BMW’s panoramic video mode has a slight fun-house comedy mirror effect.
On the other hand, having a single panoramic video view positioned where the rear view mirror sits may be an improvement over the combination of old and new technology now deployed in some cars that use a rearview camera and traditional side mirrors.
We are sure it is only a question of time before it becomes a standard feature in the foreseeable future.