Even though modern cars are essentially rolling computers with chips controlling everything in your car, we’re still using small squares of reflective glass to see what’s behind us. However, the day is on the horizon to replace mirrors with high-definition back-up cameras streaming video to small dashboard displays. Telsa Motors and a dozen other automakers are leading the way with this revolution and we will all be better off if they succeed.
Car Mirror Regulations
When federal regulators announced that all new vehicles weighing less than 10,000 pounds must be equipped with back-up cameras beginning May 1, 2018, Tesla and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers requested the Feds to allow some flexibility to mirror requirements. The automakers are asking the Feds to change the 1968 rule that requires passenger vehicles to have a mirror on the doors and another on the windshield. Instead, they are requesting that cameras be allowed to replace them for future vehicle manufacturing.
Their argument is that cameras will increase safety by providing a wider field of view and more fuel efficiency, making cars more aerodynamic since when you stick a piece of glass in a chunk of plastic on each door, it cuts into fuel efficiency.
Replacing Car Mirrors with Back-up Cameras
Cameras have been on the table as a concept since the early 1990s, but they were too costly to produce at the time. However with advanced technology, today’s manufacturing costs are much lower so companies can make them cheaper and reliable enough for the real world. According to Don Anair of the Union of Concern Scientists, side mirrors do diminish a vehicle’s aerodynamics and fuel economy, while using cameras as a safe alternative to conventional mirrors could help in reducing fuel consumption.
Volkswagen led the way by bringing a camera-based system to market with its hyper-efficient, 271-mpg XL1 in 2012, but the car was only available in Germany and Austria. Due to strict mirror requirements elsewhere, you were unable to get an XL1 anywhere else at the time.
Though Volkswagen has been the industry leader to date, there are many other automakers already using cameras to supplement conventional mirrors. Nissan and Mercedes-Benz are two automakers who have systems that provide a bird’s-eye view of the car using cameras mounted on the front, rear bumpers, and underneath the mirrors. The cameras are also used to track the lines on the road and alert the driver, or even correct the steering if the vehicle begins to drift outside the lane.
Although other manufacturers are looking at cameras to augment safety and driving conditions, Tesla and the Auto Alliance, representing major automakers in the United States and Germany, are more interested in aerodynamic benefits that will reduce fuel consumption. There is the science to back it up that indicates exterior side view mirrors increase total aerodynamic drag by an average of 2 to 7 percent, and since automakers are under increasing pressure to improve fuel efficiency, eliminating mirrors is one of the alternatives they’re counting on for the future.
Why are we still using mirrors you ask? Well, one reason is that they’re essentially idiot-proof. They’re cheap, reliable, durable, and easy to replace, but as simple and effective as they’ve been, mirrors offer a limited view. If the automakers succeed in getting the rules changed, we could see interior mirrors replaced by camera screens.
Automakers could eliminate blind spots by using a wide angle lens and image processing to provide a far wider field of vision than traditional mirrors. In doing so, they can place the screens where it’s most easily seen by the driver as opposed to mirrors, which must be positioned to afford the best rearward view.
As our high-tech world merges with the automotive industry, we will see many traditional vehicle features fall to the wayside and replaced with more advanced technology. It is an exciting time for all of us as exterior mirrors are the logical near-term target for replacement.
If you’re looking at replacing a damaged camera and/or mirror on your vehicle or have further questions regarding a back-up camera alternative for your vehicle, contact us today and our team of experts will be ready to help.