The side of your car may be up for a major redesign. Smart rearview mirrors are gaining traction, and now the semiconductor manufacturer Texas Instruments (TI) is working on electronics that could enable tiny, innocuous cameras to replace all of your car's mirrors.
For car manufacturers, "the side-view mirror is more of a nuisance," TI solutions marketing engineer Hannes Estl tells Co.Design. Without the design constraints of an exterior mirror, car makers would have more freedom to shape the look of their vehicle. Cameras are lighter and smaller than any mirror—most automotive backup cameras fit in a 1-inch cube. And without the extra weight and wind drag from those fat side mirrors, fuel efficiency could get a major boost.
The biggest advantage is the benefit of more perspective while driving. A camera would deepen your awareness of the traffic flow around you. It would have a wider scope than a side-view mirror, and it would reduce the car's blind spot. The screen could be placed in the door, near where you'd expect a side-mirror view to be, or it could be placed in the center console with the rearview image feed. An augmented-reality app, Estl ponders, could even overlay real-time information on the video, and tell you, say, how fast a car approaching from behind is going. The app could be programmed to emit a warning beep if you hit your turn signal to change lanes when the camera detects another car in the way. (Eventually, the technology could also be folded into driverless cars.)
Though Estl calculates that these type of electronic side-view mirrors will show up in prototypes in the next few years ("definitely by 2018"), and though some companies are already experimenting with replacing mirrors with cameras, there are technical, social, and legislative impediments to a car-mirror-free future. The camera would need to take somewhere on the order of 60 pictures a second, and then process those high-res images almost instantaneously to give you a real-time feed. "You cannot have a delay of a fraction of a second," Estl underscores. "The camera has to have the exact same performance that a mirror now has." And the processing power necessary, he cautions, pushes "the limits of what, today, is possible with electronics." (Good luck with your research, TI.)
We'd also have to (literally) rejigger our point of view. And after a century of driving with mirrors, changing the way we see the world outside of our cars might also take some getting used to. Glancing at a video feed instead of at a mirror would be an especially startling adjustment if that video screen were located somewhere new. Laws would need to adjust, too: Many countries require cars to have a side mirror, so any mirror-free car would be illegal until legislation catches up with the technology.