The first rear-view mirror on a vehicle dates back to 1903 and its inventor was a woman, Dorothy Levitt, who was also the first woman to win a motor race. More than a hundred years later and without having undergone substantial changes, the future of the rearview mirror is in question. It seems that cameras are here to stay.
The most widespread version related to the origin of the rearview mirror says that Levitt wrote in his book “The Woman and the Car: A Chatty Little Handbook for the Edwardian Motoriste”: “women should place a small hand mirror in a convenient place in the car and raise it from time to time so that they can look back”.
Time proved Levitt right and, since then, the rearview mirror has been a must-have for driving. Be that as it may, finally, the presence of the rearview mirror is mandatory for driving and, although legally only the one located on the driver’s door and the interior are required, it is difficult to understand a current car without this element also on the right door.
Despite having become an essential feature in most vehicles (and even advisable in others that lack them as a general rule, such as bicycles), the development that cameras have undergone in recent years and, above all, the technical capabilities for real-time reproduction of the images captured have allowed the reliable rear-view mirror to be replaced by a camera.
The first model to be launched on the market in which the mirrors were replaced by cameras was the Lexus ES in 2018, but this option was relegated to the Japanese market. In Europe, it was the Audi e-tron that was the first vehicle to replace the mirrors with this new system. Since then, we have seen it implemented in other models. First as an alternative option to the interior mirror, with a choice between the traditional mirror or screen mode, and later as a replacement for all exterior mirrors, as in the case of the Honda e.
For the time being, this technological leap is also a risk for the manufacturer, but the advantages of this system are obvious, both in terms of safety and energy efficiency.
Advantages of cameras over traditional mirrors
Your first thought is probably that a mirror will always be faster and more reliable to consult than a camera. However, data transmission has evolved to such an extent that the delay between the image captured and the image displayed is negligible to the human eye, so in practice, what we see on a mirror and a screen is the same.
Its second great advantage is the cameras’ ability to adapt to different traffic situations. A mirror can only move mechanically in a very small space, while with a camera the angle of vision is widened. By means of software, the car detects the environment through which it is circulating, which allows it to adapt the image shown to it, closing the angle of vision on a highway to gain depth and opening it in an urban environment to allow more traffic agents to enter the captured picture.
Another possibility is to add information on the screen. As with rear-view cameras with parking assistance, having cameras instead of mirrors makes it possible to include distance guides on the displayed image, making maneuvering much easier.
And all this without forgetting weather conditions. The cameras that act as rear-view mirrors are housed in small plastic parts. This prevents the image from being distorted by rain, snow or fog. In fact, the high-resolution and high-contrast displays inside the car will be more reliable in such cases. As a sign of the quality implemented, those of the Audi e-tron mount OLED technology. Also if the sun or headlights shine directly into the camera, it can adapt the lighting captured, avoiding the dreaded glare.
In addition to all this, there is the aerodynamic advantage achieved by eliminating the rear-view mirrors. The situation of the mirrors has always been a problem in this regard and with the arrival of the electric car it may be essential to gain efficiency to improve range data. The Audi e-tron, for example, goes from a coefficient of 0.28 Cx to 0.27 Cx. It’s a small advantage but, when you want to get the most out of it, every little victory counts.