Test The Limits

Reflections on the end of automotive mirrors

By Brad Duncan

July 18 2016

The demise of the side-view mirror could be closer than it appears.


A report in Automotive News states that Japan has become the first market to allow cameras in place of mirrors. Companies such as Robert Bosch and Japan’s Ichikoh Industries are already developing rear-view camera systems for future models, the report says.


It’s something we’ve campaigned for. The mirror has long been an obstacle for manufacturers as they work ever harder to improve aerodynamics and reduce emissions. With all the regulatory burdens they face to do so, it’s only fair that authorities cut them some slack elsewhere to help them achieve it.


How much does the side mirror cost in energy consumption?  The drag hit for a pair of mirrors on a car, SUV or pickup typically ranges from 10-20 counts of drag (CD=0.010 to 0.020), Removing them translates into reduced highway energy consumption of 2-4%. It takes about 10 gallons of gasoline to transport your mirrors alone through the air every year (based on highway mileage of 10000 mi/year at 30 mpg)!


The mirrorless car has been a long time coming. Concept cars often imagine a future where cameras project side and rear views onto interior screens.


Those on the 2015 Audi E-tron Quattro electric SUV even fold away when parked. When that concept was revealed last year, Audi executives said they were confident that cameras would be legalized by the production car’s target launch date of 2018.


It could be closer than that. United Nations Regulation No 46 states that cars must have systems providing indirect vision. That has meant mirrors. Now the UN’s World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations has amended that regulation to include camera monitor systems (CMS) as well.


It’s expected to come into force later this summer. Audi has argued that the switch to cameras improves safety. The reliability of cameras is no longer in question, but the resulting picture can be manipulated to provide more information and to better alert drivers to dangers.


It won’t be an easy switchover. The relationship we have as drivers with side-view mirrors is a long and ingrained one. We quickly process the reflection we see and understand the relationship between it and reality. The view from a wide-angle camera would change that relationship. The screens need to be sharp and instantly visible, but where do you put them?


All this needs to be carefully worked out, but one thing’s for sure: the net gain in terms of aerodynamic improvement ensures that no automaker will mourn the mirror’s loss.

Image courtesy of Audi AG

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