By on October 10, 2019

Image: Toyota

While side-mounted camera systems have been approved as an acceptable replacement for mirrors by much of the developed world, the United States has yet to approve their installation. But it’s under consideration via an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking in the federal register.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been testing the worthiness of these systems and how drivers interact with them vs traditional mirrors. Now it’s looking for hot takes as research continues.

On Thursday, the NHTSA announced it was also opening the door for public comments on the technology. If you care about this at all (yay or nay), it might be worth offering the agency a well-spoken piece of your mind. 

The government will take comments for 60 days, before using that information to help it reach a final decision regarding the technology’s deployment (timeline unannounced). As things currently stand, all vehicles sold in the U.S. are required by law to have factory installed mirrors. They’re also required to have a backward-facing camera systems since the new safety regulations went into effect in 2018.

We’ve covered the pros and cons of these camera systems in the past, reaching no consensus on their true value. Blind-spot monitoring can theoretically be made more robust (like on the Lexus ES) through these platforms, with various zoom functions and lane highlighting being similarly incorporated. Removing side mirrors also has the added benefit of reducing drag and wind noise. But these items are going to be quite costly to implement and obnoxious to replace.

Mirrors are notoriously reliable and give a reasonably accurate picture of what’s directly behind you. They’re also cheap and have a lifespan that lasts until they’re broken — which will easily surpass any complex camera mounts and their display screens. However, their greatest strength (simplicity) limits their technological growth. There’s not much you can do to improve a mirror but you can fine tune a camera display by syncing it up with advanced driving aids until the cows come home, retire, and die of old age.

If that makes us sound lukewarm on the possibility of the U.S. embracing camera-based mirror systems, that’s because we are. Prohibiting the technology entirely seems unwise, but it would also be a shame to see mirrors following manual transmissions and parking brake levers into the hereafter.

On-board camera systems have proven easily crippled by road grime and some have difficulties mitigating glare from sunlight and the other driver’s headlamps. Display screens can also become washed out under harsh lighting conditions and would need to be permanently active to function as an effective replacement for side mirrors. Automaker’s will need to ensure those systems are durable and useable, contending with dimming (i.e. not blinding drivers at night), blooming, and placement issues (either distracting or disorienting).

This author would honestly like to see these systems improved before they’re rolled out for use the United States and is slightly weary of their replacing mirrors, which have never offered much trouble, unnecessarily. But the NHTSA is interested in your opinions.

Comments can be submitted from now until December 9th, via mail (U.S. Department of Transportation, Docket Management Facility, M-30, West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE., Washington DC 20590) or fax (202-493-2251). Alternatively, commenters can go to this regulations.gov link and file their opinion over the internet.

Image: Toyota

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62 Comments on “NHTSA Seeks Public Input Regarding Cameras Replacing Side Mirrors...”


  • avatar
    Thomas Kreutzer

    Won’t be a very big step to have these wired into a black box that uploads to the cloud. Big brothers going to be watching for sure.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      They’ll only be able to see where you’ve been, not where you are going.

      But my concern now is with the reliability of these things. I know of a number of “backup rear view” cameras that have died way before their time.

      Not a problem while still under factory warranty, but pretty damn costly and time consuming to have to do on your own.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      Bandwidth is a much bigger issue.

      If we want to be paranoid, your car probably alreadty has GPS (and if it has no nav? A GPS chipset and antenna is like $10 RETAIL…), and that’s trivial to upload in realtime, say, every 30 seconds, via even 1G.

      “Big Brother” doesn’t CARE about your rearview camera.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Personally, I’m all for cameras replacing side mirrors. Too many times my right-side mirror is blocked by whatever my passenger is reading, so putting the display closer in to the driver would prevent any visual blocking from that angle.

    • 0 avatar
      spookiness

      I’m ok with the idea,but I’d like to see the “pods” on the side be much smaller, or to disappear altogether.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        To that, I agree, spooky

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        Why not keep the rearview mirrors and add three cameras and a display to augment them?

        That way in case of camera or screen failures you still have ye olde rear view mirrors.

        • 0 avatar
          Sigivald

          Because “getting rid of mirrors” is a significant fuel economy win.

          That’s the entire impetus here; CAFE numbers.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            And reliability, or the lack thereof, may prove to be its undoing.

            If these cameras start to fail outside of the factory warranty period, Pep Boys will be selling a ton of rear-view side mirrors that will be bolted on fenders and doors.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            The problem with the cameras that are failing is not the cameras themselves but rather the soldering job being too sensitive to temperature extremes.

            Summertime heat softens the solder and can allow it to thin on the contacts.
            Wintertime cold makes the solder very brittle, to where a rough road or even a pothole might be enough to cause the connection to break.
            Between the two, the camera becomes intermittent and eventually loses all contact… but may take several troubleshooting sessions for the dealership to discover the problem.

            Easiest fix? Simply re-solder the connections and add a tiny bit more to the connection to improve the mechanical joint. Should result in a 100% reliable repair.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    Will improve gas mileage by 0.1 MPG at the cost of $1K / vehicle. So yes, it’s totally worth it.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      https://metrompg.com/posts/mirrors.htm

      This guy got over 1 MPG on an already hyper-efficient car, just by removing one and folding down the other.

      So probably not .1 MPG unless you’re already driving a teardrop.

  • avatar
    JMII

    With modern greenhouses on vehicles getting smaller cameras have become a must have. Cameras these days have become excellent, however sensors and displays (screens) are still subject to random glitches in my experience. I’ve had 2 reverse sensors fail and 1 iffy screen on 4 cars with backup cameras. So confidence is not high. I’ve had issues with low lighting and water on the lenses but these are physical things that are well understood. Random screen freezes due to software or electrical gremlins are much harder to get sorted.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      @JMII: Read my fix above. I’ll wager it would resolve all your current issues.

      • 0 avatar
        gomez

        Vulpine: that may solve the problem in some cases, but it is unreasonable to think that the average car owner can or wants to deal with the hassle of resoldering something that should have been soldered correctly in the first place. I also doubt that the random screen freezing issues are due to solder failure. If the solder failed, there would be nothing displayed, not a frozen image. Frozen images are likely a software glitch.

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          Having worked in electronics almost my entire career and done most of my own auto repairs when it came to the computers, I KNOW what happens with cold solder joints. Frozen images can be a software glitch, true… but they could also be due to a simple loss of signal and the computer displaying the last signal received–each brand, after all, is different.

          Soldering has changed since I started in electronics. It used to be that you made a strong mechanical connection before you soldered it but today’s electronics rely on surface-mounted components that are wave soldered to the board… meaning they are literally dipped into liquid solder and pulled out, draining all ‘excess’ solder from the board to use the least amount of solder to make the connections. During this process, each component is held in place by tiny dots of gum-like adhesive which may, or may not, allow every lead to lie flat on the circuit board. One lead lifted even a micrometer can be enough to make the connection sensitive to heat and cold.

          And from personal experience with one brand, the specific leads lifting may mean a completely dead camera OR some part of the signal missing which could give you a partial image… like trying to se a night-time image in broad daylight. The quickest fix is simply to replace the camera–which is what the dealerships do. But the part, which is not typically available to the general consumer, is priced much, much higher than its cost and the dealership charges no less than one hour’s labor on top of that… meaning anywhere from $120 to $360 at the dealership or even more, again depending on brand. Knowing how to access the camera and replace it yourself is a huge cost savings. Knowing how to get into the module and re-solder the camera saves even more.

  • avatar
    MorrisGray

    My vote is absolutely NOT. Another probable failure and costly repair add on. And all of this new idea technology also adds to the rising insurance cost for all of us regardless of you owning one or not.

  • avatar
    TurboX

    Yes, if technology makes it so easy then maybe people will start using their mirrors.

  • avatar
    Old_WRX

    Mirrors work fine even in the so-called blind spot. But, they have to be adjusted correctly. Most people seem to adjust their mirrors so that half the field of view is the side of the car. Cameras would eliminate the adjustment problem. So, this will be another case where we all get to pay for some people’s ignorance/laziness. All this electronic junk will be the death of us…

    One concern I have is that looking from the road to a display requires switching from distant vision to close vision. Not sure of the ramifications of this. Or someone will hack your “mirrors” and play porn on them.

  • avatar
    mwgillespie

    Bear with me.

    In a quest for increased pedestrian safety (really, pedestrian survivability in case of contact with an automobile), we have:
    1) Flattened the nose/grill of the vehicle to do away with shin-splitting pointy parts.
    2) Raised the hood so that there is enough clearance under the hood such that toppling pedestrians don’t crack their skulls on the top of the engine.
    3) Mandated increasingly high fuel economy standards that necessitate more swoopy body styles.

    The results have been:
    1) Higher and higher beltlines thus reducing outward visibility.
    2) Mandated backup cameras to mitigate that reduced visibility but that don’t help you see over the too-high nose of the car
    3) Larger and larger wheels to balance out the design of the now-much-taller side profiles, reducing maneuverability at the margins

    During this process, we’ve gamified the driving experience such that we effectively have a slot machine on our dashboard, constantly diverting our attention from the act of driving.

    And now pedestrian fatalities are rising.

    This is reminding me of the time one of the junior hockey leagues experimented with body armor for young players. Greatly reduced minor injuries; replaced those minor injuries with extremely serious major injuries, because the young players felt completely invincible in the armor, so they played harder and the injuries they did suffer were VERY serious indeed. Took one season for the league to dump the armor.

    We’ve made it so “safe” for minor incidents with pedestrians that we’re getting to the stage where it’s not safe for the driver to actually operate the vehicle.

    Which maybe was the point all along.

    • 0 avatar
      gomez

      Beltlines are rising due to crash testing standards, not pedestrian safety or fuel economy. It is an easy way for manufacturers to add metal for structural reinforcement, as well as create room for things like impact beams and more airbags. And pedestrian fatalities are rising because people are driving more. More miles driven = more opportunities for pedestrian impact.

      But I do share your concern that all of these driver’s aids are making some people dependent on them instead of paying attention to the road.

  • avatar
    Mackey

    Have a Honda with the lane view camera on the passenger side in place of the generic lighted mirror icon for Blind Spot Monitoring. I LOVE the camera for specific actions.

    I dont need it to make a right hand turn, but it comes on with the blinker. It’s a little annoying and distracting in that instance, but when merging into a high speed highway from the left side, and needed to cross several lanes within a quarter mile due to a poorly designed interchange, this mirror is a lifesaver. Too often my mirrors can’t see due to angles of road surfaces and curving on ramps. Craning the neck around is the best alternative, but too much can still be lost in a blind spot, and you can’t keep looking back like that when trying to merge.

    Having the display allows me to head check, but then have a much wider view showing fast approaching traffic or holes, allowing me to time my entry and lane changes to the benefit of the other drivers.

    Frankly- V2V is likely the better, if equally flawed solution, but thats out of scope here.

    • 0 avatar
      Mackey

      I dont like the perpetual replacement of tried and true solutions with complex and expensive technology, especially as a rule for all cars, but there are instances where it has a place to augment good driving.

      Unfortunately, as too many of us know here, there is a population out there willing to use these tools as a crutch to enable bad behavior, rather than a premium feature to support well trained driving skills. Those are the same drivers who will not fix their cameras when they stop working, and jeopardize the rest of us as a result.

      • 0 avatar
        tankinbeans

        A coworker of mine cannot do 90° backing turn to save her life, and instead dpes the bit where she swings into a spot directly across from her preferred spot and shoots straight back. Relies 100% on her backup camera doesn’t check any of her mirrors or turn around. It’s the triple whammy.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    As soon as these appear, I am going to start business to make normal mirrors that can be placed on top of these

  • avatar
    dougjp

    Sure, lets all scrape some ice off a camera lens and see what the dealer wants to replace the utterly scratched original.

    Should just take all these techie maniacs out the back of the barn.

  • avatar
    MKizzy

    To add to the potential problems with replacing side mirrors with cameras; based on the pictures shown to date, the monitors take up an unnecessary amount of interior space whether placed by the doors or within the dashboard or instrument cluster. That awkward looking one that looks like an Galaxy Note sticking up from the door looks like it could be easily broken.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Eventually the car manufactures could eliminate all windows since vehicles will have cameras front, back, and side. The manufactures could argue that windows contribute more drag and are less efficient. Not looking forward to a future with all cameras and possibly no windows. Bad enough to eliminate manual transmissions for CVTs. I guess if that happens they might as well make vehicles self driving joyless pods.

  • avatar
    newenthusiast

    I would not get this option on a new vehicle, and would replace or cover them with real mirrors on a used vehicle that came with them. There are already too many screens in cars (the proper number of screens a driver should have to look at is ‘zero’ if you ask me). Adding another distracting screen in the name of safety seems counter-intuitive to that goal.

  • avatar

    Back in the 80’s we used to replace the US DOT mirrors with the German market equivalents-usually the same order with the EU spec headlights…. This got you a rounded outside edge passenger side and a slight convex on driver’s side, and zero blind spots. No tech involved.

    The best camera execution I’ve seen is by Honda. Hit a turn signal and that camera shows the blind spot in living color. Does require a screen in dash and camera.

    We also have blind spot systems running on K band, which isn’t helpful. That’s you, Honda….

    Really, though, all you need to do is bend the outside of the mirror….no electricity, microwaves, lidar, or cameras need be involved..

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I still do the Euro mirrors when possible. Was cheapish in conjunction with power-folding mirrors for my GTI, hurt the wallet like an SOB on my BMW with auto-dimming outside mirrors. But well worth it.

      I have zero desire to replace simple mirrors with cameras.

  • avatar

    Back in the 80’s we used to replace the US DOT mirrors with the German market equivalents. This got you a rounded outside edge passenger side and a slight convex on driver’s side, and zero blind spots. No tech involved.

    The best camera execution I’ve seen is by Honda. Hit a turn signal and that camera shows the blind spot in living color.

    We also have blind spot systems running on K band, which isn’t helpful.

    My current car uses the backup camera’s outer edges.

    Really, though, all you need to do is bend the outside of the mirror….no electricity, microwaves, lidar, or cameras need be involved..

    • 0 avatar
      Old_WRX

      speedlaw: You got that right: just fix the mirrors so that they can be adjusted by the average driver and give the full view needed. It wouldn’t be difficult to implement and it wouldn’t involve more gizmos to fail and cost $$$ to repair.

  • avatar
    Reedz55

    This should have been implemented a long time ago. No need for bulky side mirror and the screen could just placed in front of the steering wheel. May take time for drivers who used to look at the side mirrors through.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I can see cameras being required as a safety standard replacing outside mirrors with the rational that many do not know how to adjust mirrors properly therefore we need to make sure that all have a safer view. Agree fix the mirrors to where they are easier to adjust. That makes too much sense.

  • avatar
    dusterdude

    No thanks ! I prefer regular mirrors .. ( Another example , with backup cameras many peopke don’t turn there head and willmiss anything that could be moving into there path ) … With side cameras , will further give drivers an excuse from properly looking around vehicle when making lane changes etc

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      That’s an argument made by someone with no experience with the cameras. Sure, they’re not perfect but they give a MUCH wider view behind the car than your back window and you can see things your rear-view mirror can’t see because of the narrow viewing angle. I agree that a conventional glass mirror serves its purpose but they’re still limited by the physics of light itself. Cameras, with their wide-angle lenses show you so much more.

      It’s up to the user to understand what they see. And too many simply don’t care.

    • 0 avatar
      Reedz55

      I was helping my uncle installing the parts from 4WheelOnline when I mention about this idea for cars and he don’t like it either. He used to checking the side mirrors which gives him the idea about what’s happening around the car.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I believe these cameras will eventually be mandated as a safety feature. Maybe Vulpine is correct but what do you do if the cameras stop functioning when you are driving? Possibly that is a remote possibility but I would not want to depend on that. Also what happens if the lenses get dirt or anything that would inhibit their function? Those are concerns that I have. Maybe this will not be a concern if we have self driving vehicles. Possibly in the future few will own their own transportation and most vehicles if not all will be EVs.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Oh, the cameras will stop functioning eventually… whether that’s every two years or eight years down the road depends on the quality of the camera. I’ve already posted the easiest and most likely fix.

      As for dirty or frosted or whatever, what do you do when your mirrors are dirty or frosted or whatever? That’s right, you clean them. Believe it or not, a glass coating such as RainX can be applied to those mirrors and lenses which usually means you simply wipe them off with a soft cloth or shop towel or similar (the blue shop-type paper towels are even scratch free, and pretty cheap to keep one or two in the car for that purpose.) The back-up camera is typically placed where it won’t collect snow, but road spray will affect it until you can wipe it off. The ones on the sides are less likely to have a problem with spray, especially as their mounts gradually shrink until they’re little more than a blister on the bodywork. Maybe frost, but not necessarily road spray.

      And even self-driving vehicles will need to have their windows and cameras cleared–and are far more likely not to move very far if their programming realizes they’re blind.

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    This is unnecessary in my opinion.. Mirrors use no energy, are simple and perfect in their design. Why do we need to reinvent the wheel here? Used in conjunction with cameras, I would barely say ok, but as a total replacement, no.

    What’s next, blacking out the windshield and using cameras to create your view on a screen (just dont run Windows – haha)? There is/was a proposal in the aviation world to remove all windows from future aircraft designs and use screens to display the outside image to the passengers (that’s if the pilots decide it’s ok, otherwise they may just black them out).. No thanks. These old blinkers still work and I can get a good sense of the surrounding environment with the current standard equipment.

    Is it me or are we over-complicating everything we touch? If it ain’t broke…

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      Mirrors increase the frontal area of a vehicle, which means they increase total drag and thus energy use. They also are a source of wind noise. That being said, they are fine with me.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      “This is unnecessary in my opinion.. Mirrors use no energy, are simple and perfect in their design. Why do we need to reinvent the wheel here? Used in conjunction with cameras, I would barely say ok, but as a total replacement, no.”

      — Simple? Yes. Perfect? No. You have blind spots on both sides of the car and a mirror wide enough to cover those areas adequately would make them more than twice as wide as they currently stand. We’ve seen that option of the ultra-wide mirror to replace the windshield mirror but that one makes it impossible to use your sun visors and still gives you a blind spot where you’re looking at your own face instead of the highway behind it. Even with the way I set my mirrors, I still have a blind spot between where the side-view mirror loses the passing vehicle and I can actively see the nose of said vehicle beside me–yes, some cars ARE that short. Even the built-in convex mirror on my driver’s side door mirror isn’t quite wide enough for full coverage.

      Proper placement of the mirrors should be at the front of the fenders, like they were on many late ’50s cars (and boy, did they disrupt the aerodynamics!) A camera placed in the eyebrow light fixture for the head and cornering lamps would be far more effective AND eliminate any aerodynamic disruption. Definitely they would work better than these wing mirrors we now use.

      • 0 avatar
        Halftruth

        Point taken Vulpine, ultimately I just don’t want another damn screen to look at. If mirrors are a little more work, I am ok with it. Imagine the interior of the future, pasted screens everywhere. Yuck

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          Didn’t you know? The windshield itself will be a screen soon enough. They’ve been playing with Heads Up Display technology for a while and this will be an example of it.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    You and I will clean them off but many will not and some that do will probably use something that will scratch the lenses. I do have a concern that once the cameras go that it might be more expensive to replace them than the vehicle is worth therefore junking a perfectly usable vehicle which is happening to many vehicles after airbags are deployed which is more planned obsolescence. Many manufactures are discontinuing parts for vehicles after less than 10 years. True there are salvage yards but then you do not know if that part is defective or worn out. Just listing some concerns. It might be that most vehicles in the future are scrapped after 5 years and that we lease them instead of buying them.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      If the cars have a five year service life, then a five years lease will cost as much as buying.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      On the subject:

      https://www.autonews.com/article/20131102/OEM10/311049982/factory-parts-for-an-older-car-good-luck

      https://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/14049/are-auto-manufacturers-required-under-us-federal-law-to-provide-parts-for-a-set

      “It might be that most vehicles in the future are scrapped after 5 years and that we lease them instead of buying them.”

      We’re sorry Comrade, you have to sit on the central committee to own an automobile.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Halftruth–I can see the auto manufacturers eventually eliminating all windows for aerodynamics and cost savings–no glass and no window controls to open windows–just make sure that your air conditioning is working.

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    If the government is going to push this, then they need to make a standard spec and mount. When the cameras are universal, they’ll be replaceable for the price of a cheap webcam. Otherwise, they’ll be another source of high insurance and ownership costs. If you’ve ever seen someone who just found out how much the LED license plate light for their Fiat 500 is going to cost so they can pass state inspection, you’ll understand that government and insurance companies are not looking out for our interests when they regulate every aspect of our existences.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Nor will Government look after our interests as consumers. I predict more and more vehicles will be scrapped long before they are worn out because of the cost to repair and replace these electronic gizmos. Good for the car companies but bad for anyone wanting to keep their vehicles. We already have vehicles with disposable transmissions (CVT). Insurance companies will write off a vehicle if the cost of parts and repair exceed the book value which in the case of a vehicle that is more than a couple of years old the cost of replacement airbags can easily exceed the value especially if it is a lower cost Kia, Hyundai, or a Big 3. Doesn’t take too many years for most cars to depreciate to where they are worth a fraction of what they cost new.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Eventually many might think of cars as they think of the latest smart phone or I phone and after a few years they will be obsolete. We might lease vehicles for a certain period of time and the cost of the lease will eventually reflect the full purchase price less scrap value. That could be the end of car ownership as we know it and definitely the end of all car loans exceeding 5 years. I don’t think this will happen in the next few years but it could happen in the next 10 to 20 years.

    • 0 avatar
      Old_WRX

      If the “environmentalists” cared about the environment they would be screaming bloody murder at this trend toward obsolescence (it’s not just cars — how long do you expect the consumer goods you buy these days to last?). It has to be an incredible waste of energy and other resources. Of course if they really cared about the future of planet Earth, they would have to deal with the elephant in the proverbial living room: population growth. Simple math: crud per person X number of people = total crud.

      But, they don’t. I guess the push toward electric cars might just be backed by the same people that would benefit financially by the switch to electric cars…. Nah, couldn’t be.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        If ‘environmentalism’ wasn’t just a marketing campaign for misanthropy, ending the practice of shipping everything around the world on gross polluting ships would be its highest priority. Nobody would be worried about melting ice cubes overflowing their margaritas. Migrating people from nations with tiny footprints to places where they will have huge carbon footprints would be anathema to the cause. Proponents of green legislation would never take helicopters from their mega yachts to their private jets, because it would be irresponsible as citizens of the world. Corn ethanol wouldn’t be used as a poor substitute for gasoline, as it will inevitably destroy arable land and waste fresh water supplies that are supposed to be precious. It seems unlikely that reason or reality will ever dissuade anyone so completely brainwashed as to still believe in AGW today.

  • avatar
    DweezilSFV

    Oh FFS, stop.Just please stop.

    Eradicating that last .00002% of “risk” for total what if “saaaaafety” goals is going to drive the price of vehicles beyond affordability such that an 84 month loan won’t be long enough to pay for a frigging Mitsubishi Mirage.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I just don’t see car loans getting extended anymore especially with all the electronic nannies which are expensive to replace and more and more people would be underwater on their cars which will depreciate faster than the balance of the loan. Better to offer more leases and build the depreciation into the lease. If anything I believe that the average life of a vehicle will decrease due to the complexity and the cost to replace electrical components. If anything vehicles will become more disposable. If only vehicles would become less expensive then I wouldn’t mind them not lasting as long.


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