Rearview advance | WORLD
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Rearview advance

Are cars without mirrors closer than they appear? 

BMW i8 mirrorless car BMW Japan Corp

Rearview advance
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Most drivers typically glance at their sideview and rearview mirrors every few seconds. But automotive mirrors may become obsolete as manufacturers increasingly roll out mirrorless concept vehicles that rely instead on rear-facing cameras.

Many American drivers have grown familiar with the backup cameras that are a standard feature in most new vehicles. But a camera system that replaces mirrors can give drivers a complete view of the rear and sides of their vehicle, overcoming the problem of blind spots. Eliminating protruding sideview mirrors also decreases aerodynamic drag and improves fuel efficiency.

Brad Duncan of Exa Corp., a simulation software company that works with automakers, told Design News, “We’re looking for cars to have much lower drag in the near future, and mirrorless is a clear win.” Duncan noted that a typical car burns a tank of fuel each year just by transporting its mirrors.

BMW, Kia, and Tesla have all recently showcased concept vehicles with no sideview or rearview mirrors. The rear-facing cameras in the BMW i8, which debuted in 2016, project their images on a display suspended from the car’s windshield. Last month, Mitsubishi Electric introduced mirrorless technology that includes a motion detection system capable of sensing objects up to 328 feet away, according to IEEE Spectrum.

Both Japan and the European Union have approved mirrorless vehicles, and the first commercial mirrorless cars may hit Japanese streets as early as next year, the technology magazine reported. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has only approved a “hybrid” mirror and camera design on the Cadillac CT6 and has yet to endorse a completely mirrorless system.

Some U.S. automotive suppliers, though, advise caution in adopting mirrorless technology. They cite potential drawbacks, such as the two-dimensional image presented by a camera-based display, and the need for the driver’s eyes to constantly refocus.

“When you focus on a display, you’re focusing on a plane that’s 18 to 24 inches from your eye,” Craig Piersma of Gentex Corp., a supplier of automotive mirrors and camera-based vision systems, told Design News. “But when you focus on the plane of a mirror, you’re actually focusing on the reflection, which is hundreds of feet behind you. So with a mirror, your eye doesn’t have to refocus.”

If cameras eventually replace mirrors on vehicles, it will likely happen in stages, with the sideview mirrors being the first to go.

Sound as sight

A new iPhone app could help the visually impaired gain a greater awareness of their surroundings—by using sound. The Microsoft Soundscape app, free for iOS in the United States and the U.K., is part of a research project begun in 2014 to use “3-D audio” to enrich a pedestrian’s perception of his surroundings, according to Microsoft’s Accessibility Blog.

“Obstacle avoidance is not the problem, we have a dog, a cane and our blindness skills for that,” Erin Lauridsen, the access technology director at San Francisco’s LightHouse for the Blind, told Microsoft. “The gap is knowing where things are and being able to decide what’s of interest.”

Incorporating the phone’s navigation capabilities, the app lets the user set audio beacons at known destinations or landmarks. Through a stereo headset, audio cues emanate from these points of interest, allowing the user to develop a mental image based on the acoustic environment. —M.C.

Michael Cochrane Michael is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD correspondent.


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