Digital side mirrors: what they are and how they work

Digital side mirrors: what they are and how they work

Digital side mirrors

Almost daily we report design hypotheses of future prototypes more or less ready to arrive on the market, some of which, however, equipped with extremely sharp, compact and futuristic rear-view mirrors. The reason is soon explained, although the rear-view mirrors are a fundamental element for free movement on the road, it seems that the designers are not particularly inclined to find a shape or design that can marry well with the lines of the car and, for this reason, they almost always tend to taper them to a minimum, almost making them ineffective.

A clear example, without going back over the years, is represented by the Toyota Mirai, Toyota's hydrogen sedan, which in its “prototype” form incorporated extremely small mirrors; elements that, during the production cycle, have taken a decidedly more common form and similar to what may be the most conventional measures. Moving on to a much more recent car we could tell you about the Alfa Romeo Tonale and we report the difference directly below:

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Audi and Lexus, like now other brands, have solutions of this type on the market capable of completely replacing the famous reflective glass in use for over 100 years.

History of the mirrors

But when are the side mirrors born? The inventor of the rear-view mirror (central) is considered to be the driver Ray Harroun who, in 1911, won the Indianapolis 500 in a car equipped with this unknown device. While the other competitors hosted a mechanic on board to check the traffic behind them, Harroun installed a mirror directly on the hood. Since then, it quickly moved to use on road cars with the obligation of adoption by all manufacturers.

To find the first car equipped with side mirrors, however, you have to run up to the 1950s-1960s (unfortunately the references on this are not very clear between patents and real uses), when the first mirrors were installed on pillars, spare wheels, hood moldings etc. Later they were positioned where we are now used to finding them, quickly passing from completely manual solutions to more than sophisticated devices capable of integrating electronic movements, turn indicators, proximity and brightness sensors and much more. | ); } In 2016, on the occasion of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Audi tested the first digital mirror in an R18 TDI and since then they have gradually become more sophisticated and adopted.

How do digital mirrors work

First of all, how do they work? If it wasn't clear yet, the basic principle for digital side mirrors is very simple. There are cameras mounted directly into a housing on the door or A-pillar in a position similar to conventional side mirrors. These transmit a video stream directly to the car's internal displays, generally positioned on the internal pillars or in the sill.

To prevent the system from being damaged by debris or ice, the camera lens is set back or deep; in some cars it is heated while on other models, such as the Honda e, it benefits from a water-repellent coating.

Digital mirrors on cars

As mentioned, these devices are now more than reality although in some countries they are not yet officially homologated; in the United States, for example, its use is still prohibited by National Highway Traffic Safety despite numerous petitions submitted by car manufacturers. In documents, automakers have reported and demonstrated that conventional side mirrors increase a vehicle's overall drag by 2 to 7 percent; a 10 percent reduction in drag would improve fuel economy by approximately 3.2 percent. But why this limitation in America where, absurdly, it is possible to use Tesla's Yoke steering wheel without any problem? For an anachronistic law that establishes the average radius of curvature of a mirror which, in digital ones, would be completely different. Unfortunately, the wheels of bureaucracy are slow all over the world and despite the numerous complaints from the manufacturers at the moment everything is silent.

Despite these data and the fact that a digital mirror still offers a much more defined field of vision, in America it is not possible to configure an Audi e-Tron S with the "virtual exterior mirrors" package for over 2,000 EUR . The same goes for the Lexus ES luxury sedan, which in Europe can be purchased with the € 1,800 "digital exterior mirrors" accessory.

Digital mirrors on trucks

Anyone who grinds, like myself, kilometers and kilometers on the motorway will surely have noticed the numerous articulated trucks equipped with these sophisticated systems; while on cars it may be more difficult to see them because the dimensions do not change that much, on trucks the difference is so huge that it can be noticed even from long distances.

Starting from 2020, Mercedes has decided to replace the classic mirrors on trucks with a digital system known as “MirrorCam” capable of offering numerous advantages over the more classic glass. Installed on the Actros line, the system has external cameras positioned on the roof and digital displays directly set on the internal pillars. Thanks to MirrorCam, the driver benefits from a clearer view that allows you to limit possible blind spots. MirrorCam also rotates the camera image towards the inside of the curve so that the driver can always see the final part of the convoy.

It is a valid system characterized by the presence of high definition cameras that guarantee clear images in any context, even in low light conditions. Of course, like the most classic latest generation mirrors, it never dazzles the driver even in light-dark or "dull" situations. Mercedes is of course not the only brand, recently Man also shared a similar system known as Optiview that can be installed on the TGX, TGS, TGL and TGM series.

Pros and Cons of Digital Rear View Mirrors

One of the biggest challenges faced by bus drivers or truck drivers in general is viewing objects that are out of sight direct from the driver. For this purpose, different types of rear-view mirrors are used which, depending on the type of vehicle, are mandatory or optional, as governed by the European regulation and our Highway Code.

Among the positive aspects, it is impossible not to highlight, especially on heavy vehicles, the possibility of almost completely eliminating blind spots, of having a visibility free of reflections and dirt and, finally, saving both on fuel and on maintenance. A more compact mirror is difficult to bump or hit, as it can happen on more traditional ones, even foldable ones.

The cons? The only detectable cons, in our opinion, is the cost of access; while on cars an outlay of around 2,000 euros is required, on heavy vehicles the figure can drastically increase.

Our experience

A few months ago we had the opportunity to test for a few days an Audi e-Tron S Sportback, an electric SUV worth around 100,000 euros. The super-equipped car also featured the aforementioned side cameras which, in our opinion, appeared impractical and intuitive.

Perhaps due to the positioning of the internal OLED displays, which are used to reproduce the images of the cameras, we have encountered numerous difficulties in natural use. The presence of displays under the eye line forced us to constantly lower our gaze and the definition did not allow us to immediately understand the depth and the real positioning of the obstacles. An isolated case? Need more practice? Probably yes, but at the moment we have not had the opportunity to investigate the subject with new evidence. Surely an element that can be improved is the very position of the displays; the insertion inside a dashboard panel could certainly favor its usability. In the past we tested Kia's Sorento plug-in SUV which, in turning situations, enabled a small camera that projected images directly onto the central instrumentation; an excellent solution!

Innovation necessary?

At the moment we are still uncertain about the real need at least on cars, the terrain we face every day with our road tests. Can we recommend this expensive accessory? The suggestion we would like to give you is to try the option, perhaps in the dealership, so as to get a basic idea of ​​what it could mean.

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