It’s an idea we have already seen applied to concept cars, but, so far, legal requirements have prevented it from becoming a reality. Now, one country has taken the first steps towards making the concept a reality.
The innovation under discussion is the mirrorless car, a vehicle that relies on the feed from a camera, or several cameras, rather than the traditional rear view and side view mirrors.
This technology has existed for some time, and has been demonstrated on prototypes and concepts from a number of manufacturers.
Using cameras has several advantages over mirrors. Multiple cameras can cover all angles, providing wider coverage than the usual three mirrors and eliminating blind spots. Getting rid of the two wing mirrors may also make cars more aerodynamic, and allows for designs with cleaner lines.
The obvious disadvantage is that a complicated setup of cameras, wires, and display screens seems more likely to go wrong than the tried and tested mirror, with potentially expensive consequences.
Of course, mirrors can break as well, and, as far as we know, breaking a camera won’t bring seven years of bad luck.
It would also be harder for a police officer to tell whether a camera setup was working correctly. Camera lenses, like mirrors, can mist up, but are less easy to reach for cleaning from the driver’s seat.
Car manufacturers are eager to show off their progress in this area, but, up until now, mirrors have been a legal requirement for all new and used cars on the road. This means that, currently, rear view cameras can only be used to supplement mirrors, not replace them.
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Now, Japan has relaxed its regulations, following findings by a UN working group which concluded that cameras could safely be used to provide rear observation, if they met an agreed standard.
The Japanese ministry for transport made the announcement in July 2016. At first, the cameras must be positioned to provide an equivalent view to car mirrors, with monitors placed in the locations usually occupied by the mirrors themselves.
This decision could see other countries adopting the same policy. As well as car manufacturers, the companies developing the technology have been lobbying for a re-evaluation of the laws in other countries. Bosch is a leading proponent of rear view cameras, and is said to have a system in development for rollout over the next three years.