Concept cars have worn absurdly tiny mirrors for ages, and plenty of production cars have tried to get away with mirrors too small for their own good. But until recently, screen and video camera technology didn’t permit a cost-effective replacement for a feature that has hardly changed in over a century. We have smartphone miniaturization to thank for a number of recent breakthroughs, but auto makers still aren’t replacing traditional, clunky mirrors, in part because of government regulations. But that may be about to change.
Japan has just become one of the first automotive markets to allow mirrorless cars, Automotive News reports, and it is arguably the country that could stand to benefit the most given the tight quarters of virtually any locale, save for the northern island of Hokkaido. In response, automotive suppliers are streaming in, given the vast potential for different designs. Cadillac has already taken the first step in the U.S., offering a rearview mirror that can turn into a rearview screen in the new CT6 sedan as an option, though the U.S. has yet to give regulatory approval for side-view cameras that will get rid of the side mirrors themselves.
It’s not just suppliers who stand to benefit from the new technology. Auto makers will be able to squeeze out better drag coefficient numbers by going mirrorless, leading to better fuel efficiency, while offering a clearer image that can compensate for angles, blind spots and low light levels.
Automotive News notes that Japanese parts manufacturer Ichikoh estimates that by 2023, around 29% of cars built for the Japanese market will feature rearview cameras instead of mirrors and that about 12% will have cameras in place of external mirrors. Other parts manufacturers like Bosch are gearing up for this technology, but the single biggest barrier across the various world markets remains legislation.
Just how will the screens that replace side-view mirrors be positioned? There are, actually, a few possibilities that manufacturers are exploring. One option will see screens integrated into the dash, in place of the corner A/C vents. Another option is to place the screens in the A-pillars (the structures that form the sides of the windshield frame), which is what’s being done in commercial trucks. A third alternative is a screen or a projection integrated into the top edge of the windshield that will display a panoramic view of what is behind the vehicle.
Another barrier to the technology is consumer acceptance. It’s one thing to offer screens in place of mirrors but another to convince the general car-buying public of its advantages. Our first (and second) experience with Cadillac’s switchable rearview mirror screen was a mixed one; the rearview screen did not offer a dramatically greater field of view, and focusing our eyes on the surface of the video screen took a second or two. In many ways, it was like looking at a smartphone image positioned a foot and a half away from our heads, requiring our eyes to adjust to the “artificial” image the screen was displaying. Our conclusion, at least in Cadillac’s case, was that such a system could be useful in place of a backup camera in a low-slung coupe with thick C-pillars or otherwise horrible visibility. But even then, the infotainment screen already provides a much larger rear picture for parking needs.
In short, it’s more than just a matter of making the technology cheap enough to happen; car buyers have to believe that it’s better and safer, or at the very minimum not worse than plain old glass mirrors.
The article “Are you ready for mirrorless cars? Auto makers are…” first appeared on Autoweek.com.