When Audi announced the launch of its ‘e-tron’ in 2019, despite the switch to an all-electric powertrain, one of the most notable changes was the inclusion of a side camera system in place of traditional door mirrors. It was a first for mass-produced models, but the trend is gaining traction.
Honda and Hyundai are both manufacturers already using similar systems for some of their models, typically the electric versions as the camera technology seems more fitting to be combined with the cutting-edge technology used to power the cars.
As with all such technological advancement, there are advantages and disadvantages, with one major factor slowing the adoption by all manufacturers is that at the time of writing, mirror camera systems are not road legal in the US yet.
But when they do become legal, we can expect them to become standard fitting, at least on electric vehicles.
Mirror cameras increase range for EVs and more
One of the key advantages of mirror cameras is their ability to reduce drag, which for EVs is a credible method to improve efficiency, which increases range. Honda claims that driving with cameras reduces aerodynamic drag by around 90% compared to conventional door mirrors.
Honda’s camera mirrors deliver an approximate 3.8% improvement for the entire vehicle that benefits the car’s efficiency and range. The interior refinement is also improved, with the wind noise typically experienced around wing mirrors reduced.
Any driver reading this, will understand the problem of blind spots. Mirrors cannot cover the entire field of view, like the human eye. Cameras will use wide-angle lenses to eliminate blind spots, as the importance lies in detecting an object, such as another vehicle, not seeing any detail in the object.
However, cameras can show more detail in some lighting conditions, such as in tunnels, night time driving or bad weather, thanks to having in-built levels for exposure, contrast, etc., which will alter automatically just as the cameras in mobile phones do.
Of course as an injection moulding specialist working with a number of automotive manufacturers, here at Borough Chrome we understand the aesthetic aspect of door mirrors is also an issue – they’re big mouldings, that in the main are really not too attractive.
The minimalistic and futuristic look brought to car design by mirror cameras, fits well with the modern aesthetic of the EV market in particular. Also, the moulded plastic structure for the camera lenses is an opportunity to include highlight finishes like chrome to reflect modern design trends.
Disadvantages make a good argument against
As with all such technology, mirror cameras also come with disadvantages that make the choice a less binary decision. Firstly, since cameras are more complex than simple mirrors, they are more expensive to purchase for the manufacture, who will also have to spend more to include them in their cars’ systems.
Apart from cracking or shattering, there is not a lot to go wrong with a piece of mirrored glass. Electric camera mirrors however, are likely to malfunction more and replacing them will not be as easy as swapping a broken mirror.
Anyone who uses their phone camera regularly will also understand that the live footage can be blurry and of low quality, but more importantly, the problem of lens flare in bright sunny conditions could obscure an object that would be easily spotted in a traditional door mirror.
Where drivers look to see what the camera is filming is another question faced by the designers of automotive interiors. We are becoming used to parking cameras and heads-up displays, but we naturally expect to look to our left and right when using side mirrors, so will the displays have to be fitted to the doors? If they are, how big, how distracting and how durable will they be?
The problem of using mirror cameras for drivers with poor eyesight sometimes crops up as an argument against them, but depending on where the displays are fitted, this could be resolved relatively easily.
Also allowing camera settings to be ‘remembered’ by the car for individual drivers, a bit like we do now with electric seats, steering columns and ironically, mirrors, could help improve the situation for drivers with less-than-optimal 6/6 vision.
When it comes to technology and overcoming obstacles such as these, we must remember the old adage, necessity is the mother of invention. The minds working on these problems for automotive manufacturers are some of the keenest around and likely to solve all the issues, long before mainstream cars feature camera mirrors.
Chrome will add the detail
As the UK’s leading specialist in chrome plating of plastic components for the automotive sector, we are all for development of new and better technologies to improve the driving experience. On reflection mirror cameras will be an advantage for almost all drivers, of all vehicles, with the potential to record footage on the move too, only adding to safety and security of all road users.
In the end, the cost is likely to make camera mirrors, an optional extra to start with. But as manufacturers move to a subscription model for features included as standard even if not ordered by the customer, camera mirrors could be another profitable choice for manufacturers.
Whatever the future holds, we hope the high-quality finish and durability of chrome will feature either as detail on the camera housing to ensure it remains visible and aesthetically appealing, or as trim within the cockpit, to improve the driving experience.