For decades, external mirrors on cars have used conventional reflective surfaces to provide a view rearwards, a simple and low-cost approach. However, the view has been fixed and apart from some minor enhancements like making the surface convex to provide a slightly wider view, the mirrors have remained unchanged.
In future, that traditional mirror design will soon be replaced by a digital type which uses a camera instead of a reflective surface. Using cameras to get a view of the back is, of course, not new since they are used for reverse cameras in many cars. However, for door mirrors, the approach has only been seen in concept cars.
Though it’s not been that difficult to adopt (cost issues apart), current regulations in most countries do not allow for digital mirrors so the manufacturers have not made a serious effort to start offering them. Nevertheless, they do offer advantages such as a better view which can be enhanced to provide different viewing angles and because the camera lenses are tiny, the door mirror housings can also be small, reducing obstruction and wind noise.
As Japanese authorities have changed the rules (in 2016) regarding mirrors and allow the use of camera-based systems, Lexus will now offer the world’ first Digital Side-View Monitors on the latest ES model but only in Japan (from next month).
The cameras in the Digital Side-View Monitors transmit the images onto 5-inch display monitors located inside the cabin at the base of the front pillars. Another advantage the Digital Side-View Monitors have over their conventional counterparts is that they are shaped to resist the accumulation of raindrops and snow, leaving the driver’s view unaffected.
The system automatically enhances the corresponding area―left, right or behind―when the turn signals are activated, or when the transmission is put into reverse. The view of areas around the car can be manually enhanced by the driver to obtain complete peripheral awareness of the area around the vehicle. However, an initial issue may be the ability of today’s drivers, conditioned to looking at the conventional mirrors outside, looking at the two monitors instead. And though they can enlarge views to ‘zoom in’ on areas, they will also need to get used to the variations in depth perception.
Japan’s Ichikoh Industries, which is owned by Valeo, is one of the companies that makes these advanced mirror systems and forecasts that at least 29% of vehicles in the Japanese market will have digital mirrors within 5 years.