By on January 11, 2020

Even though automakers routinely preview concept and prototype vehicles with camera mounts replacing traditional side and rear-view mirrors, you’ll have to wait a while before the technology makes its way to production vehicles. While Japan thinks ditching mirrors for a digital display is sugoi (Japanese for hunky-dory), other nations have maintained some amount of trepidation in embracing the technology.

For our purposes, both Canada and the United States have examined the matter, yet neither feels ready to make any industry-altering decisions. Supplier Magna International says that’s okay ⁠— it’ll be ready to hook up North America with the applicable hardware when the time comes. Plenty of downsides can be found in swapping out traditional mirrors, offsetting some of the benefits, and lawmakers need to figure out how to manage that when it comes time to redefine automotive regulations

Most states require vehicles have at least one mirror to be deemed eligible for driving on American roads; however, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards stipulate they be manufactured with both side and rearview mirrors. What you do after that is up to you and the state you’re driving in. Canada is a little less breezy, requiring at least one mirror in all provinces. Still, both have considered what it might take to swap to camera-based systems over the last decade.

In the United States, the initial push into autonomy made the issue difficult to ignore. AVs are highly reliant on sensor equipment, including cameras, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been trying to embrace new technologies to give the industry some leeway to blast off into A Safer Future™. As you undoubtedly know from reading this site, self-driving cars have seemingly gotten themselves trapped in a development vortex. But the accompanying hardware has not.

Back in August, the NHTSA announced it would begin testing the viability of cameras against traditional mirrors. However, while the U.S. is focusing primarily on safety, Canucks have taken a slightly different approach. In 2013, Transport Canada surmised that lower-profile cameras offered a “significant reduction in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions from the heavy-duty-vehicle sector.” The nation moved to amend Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations Schedule 111 in an attempt to legalize camera-based systems a few years later, but nothing ever came of it.

Ontario-based Magna seems hip to the situation and already has products is believes offer the best of both worlds. “We’re well-suited for the future when that trend comes, but we see it as a slow, slow adoption at the moment,” Keith Foote, vice-president of engineering with Magna Mirrors of America, told Automotive News this week.

In the fall, the supplier showed off its newest “mirror.” Developed with help from Gentex Corp, Magna’s latest ClearView system allows drivers to swap between traditional reflection and panoramic live feed. While it offers mirror-free hardware in other parts of the world (e.g. Japan and Europe), providing a traditional reflective surface that can double as a camera feed should allow it to be sold in the U.S. and Canada.

It also helps circumvent some of the less pleasant aspects of having no mirrors. Despite offering a wider view of the world and the ability to network with advanced driving aids, camera systems have their drawbacks. One of the largest is a camera’s inability to show you more than a single perspective. With mirrors, you can reposition your head to give you a slightly better view of what’s behind you. This encourages you to look around more, covering your blind spots and providing better situational awareness.

Camera displays lose their edge at night, as well. A crisp screen image can turn into a low-resolution mess after the sun goes down. Your eyes also have to adjust as they travel between illuminated displays and the road ahead, creating totally unique issues whenever the settings are too bright. However, the biggest problem for consumers is probably complexity and cost. Whereas a mirror can be installed or repaired rather cheaply, camera systems cannot. They can also be more easily obscured by roadway grime and precipitation, as anybody who has ever used a reverse camera in the middle of a snowy winter already knows.

Magna believes its dual setup avoid mosts of these headaches and should satisfy laws that require the use of traditional mirrors. ClearView offers a regular interior mirror, with the ability to swap to camera monitoring on the fly, and a side view mirror with a camera that permits a second video feed to be sent to a small screen mounted on the front pillar. While not yet in series production, Magna expects 0.5 percent of global vehicles to use its camera technology by 2025. The company said that low figure is largely down to some of its biggest markets being regulatory holdouts.

While we’re not certain if the advantages of camera monitoring actually trump old-school mirrors, they’re likely to become normalized within the industry as the technology improves. Right now, they’re just medium-quality displays with advanced blind-spot monitoring capabilities and night vision (sometimes). But automakers continue playing with them, with a few (Lexus and Audi) attaching them to production vehicles in select markets. They may prove invaluable a decade from now, but we’re not prepared to make that guarantee here in 2020.

[Images: Magna International, Lexus]

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43 Comments on “It’s a Slow Road to Rear-view Video, but Magna Says It’s Ready...”


  • avatar
    Fred

    It’s used in prototype race cars. Including 24 hour like Le Mans, Daytona etc

  • avatar
    redgolf

    “With mirrors, you can reposition your head to give you a slightly better view of what’s behind you. This encourages you to look around more, covering your blind spots and providing better situational awareness.”
    Most people that I know, including my wife, do not know how to position the side rear view mirrors in order to see what’s in their blind spots!They usually point the mirrors to see what’s along side their vehicle instead of pointing them out to see what’s in the true blind spot
    Search Results
    Featured snippet from the web
    Side-view mirrors
    “To adjust the driver’s side-view mirror, place your head against the left side window and set the mirror so you can just barely see the side of the car in the mirror’s right side.
    To adjust the passenger’s side-view mirror, position your head so that it is just above the center console.”

    https://driversed.com/trending/learn-to-properly-adjust-and-use-mirrors

    • 0 avatar
      dont.fit.in.cars

      Same here. No matter how many times I showed my wife how to adjust she won’t do it. I gave up.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      If you think the sole purpose of side mirrors is to show a context-free arbitrary spot in space, you’re using them wrong. Gimmicks are not, and never will be a legitimate substitute for proper driving and paying attention. If you’re a bad enough driver that another vehicle can be in your blind spot and you aren’t aware of it, no amount gimmicks can fix that.

  • avatar
    redgolf

    I always install small spot mirrors on all of my vehicles side mirrors, I’m also liking the blind spot warning lights that the newer vehicles have placed on the mirrors, although if another vehicle is coming up on you too fast they are not going to prevent you from a crash because the cameras do not scan a very wide area.

  • avatar
    gasser

    Let’s see now, hard to readjust eyes from dark road to light screen at night?? Hard to readjust eyes from looking far down a road to looking at a nearby screen?? (Especially for older drivers). Lose the ability to move head to instantly change the viewing area?? Providing another interior surface to let passengers whack their heads upon??
    How do these possibly add up to a better idea for replacing PROPERLY ADJUSTED mirrors of today?????

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    I used to work for a company that had mid-sized Audis as company cars. I loved the back up camera. I could execute things Joey Chitwood never attempted. The company owner was a thirty-something early adopter, born to the sort of wealth that involves an airstrip on the property and a full-time pilot on the staff. He was never comfortable with the back up cameras at all. I’ve also spoken to older folks who have no faith in the lesser backup cameras in their cars. The A6 and A7 we had were flawed in ways that I do not miss, but the backup cameras were the best I’ve used. They were a real asset for me, as I can adjust to anything that possesses precision.

    I’ve also used plenty of backup cameras that required too much of a learning curve to be worth the bother. I suspect side view cameras will have a similar range of performance. Do I want some lawyer deciding what is in my blind spot and how much space I should be deceived to think I don’t have? Side view cameras have the potential to reduce drag and act as a sales feature. Regulators should determine some minimum standards and then leave availability and adoption up to manufacturers and consumers.

    • 0 avatar
      multicam

      ToddAtlasF1, you should go to your local Jeep dealership and try the backup cameras in -believe it or not- the new Wranglers. I’d love to see if they compare to your experience with the Audi ones. For some reason, the backup camera in my 2019 Wrangler with the 7″ screen (mid-range option below an 8.4″ option and above a 5″ option) is by far the clearest, sharpest backup camera I’ve ever seen. I’ve had numerous people comment on it while I’m backing up and looking over my shoulder. The great irony is that they aren’t even needed; jeeps have such great visibility that I hardly use them except when trying to get a few inches closer to my garage door or something.

  • avatar
    chris724

    With mirrors, your eyes don’t need to change focus when going from windshield to mirror and back. With video screens they would.

    • 0 avatar
      GregLocock

      Yes, I recently drove a Range Rover fitted with the camera based rear view system, and having to refocus on the mirror from looking straight ahead was the biggest issue i had with it.

  • avatar
    redgolf

    I had a backup camera on the 2014 Cruze that I leased, while backing up from a friends slanting driveway at night with my wife blocking the drivers side window holding a large plant and the rear window blocked with baby shower gifts, I thought I could safely back up until I hear a thump, seems my friends mailbox was installed close to the driveway and one of those fancy wrought iron ones that i think the builder installed to purposely cause damage to an unexpected driver,$1200 damage, nothing to the mailbox. A few months later another friend told me he hit the same mailbox in his new Toyota Camry! Hack saw anyone?

  • avatar
    How_Embarrassing_4You

    Thats the dumbest most tacked on camera system I’ve ever seen.

  • avatar
    Add Lightness

    I embrace my Luddite-ism but actually like the idea of getting rid of the outside rear view mirrors.
    As someone who appreciates aerodynamics, when I see a modern svelte car from the front, the outside mirrors look akin to water floats on a Cessna.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    My Bolt has a dual-mode center mirror that can be either a traditional mirror or a screen (advertised as giving an unobstructed view). I find the screen mode totally unusable under most circumstances. It’s distracting in my peripheral vision when I’m not looking at it and requires refocusing my eyes when I am looking at it.

    And I use the side mirrors far more than the center mirror, as I expect anyone does who has spent any significant amount of time driving heavy vehicles.

    So I’m extremely skeptical of these systems and will be less likely to buy a vehicle that has them.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      I went about 7 years before I got around to replacing the missing center mirror on my work truck. Of course it helped that the side mirrors are sized for the function of providing a view, rather than meeting a minimum standard while adding as little drag as possible.

  • avatar
    Schurkey

    The biggest problem with cameras on vehicles will be the memory.

    Specifically, the video recording of your surroundings, which will then be used by Federal, State, County and Municipal Prosecutors to either surveil traffic around you, or as “proof” that you are at fault in some collision.

    You can be sure that the driver won’t own the video; and/or courts will be lax about Driver’s Rights along with the Court’s continued abuse of the US Constitution’s prohibitions against illegal searches.

    In the end, this will all just be more warrantless surveillance.

  • avatar
    Garak

    I’m all for having an extra camera for those blind spots, but I wouldn’t buy a vehicle without regular mirrors. Most of my driving is at night, and monitors tend to ruin my night vision.

    I’d be ready to ditch mirrors if the cameras have wide angle lenses, quick adjustment systems, infrared lights, perfect reliability in all weather conditions, and screens that don’t cause eye strain.

  • avatar
    redgolf

    Garak – sounds like to me you are a very good candidate for an autonomous vehicle! ;-)

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Eventually we will all have autonomous vehicles regardless if we want one or not. If and when the technology becomes to where insurance companies and the Government requires autonomous vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      dont.fit.in.cars

      Nope. The issue is not technical (though doubt a camera will lass 200k miles) but liability. No manufacturer will pay liability insurance.

      Fine example where technology vs longevity vs overall cost.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      Insurance costs will not have anything to do with a transition to autonomy. Your insurance rates reflect the actual risk of driving the vehicle you drive. Unless the presence of autonomous vehicles makes driving regular cars riskier (hint: It will do the opposite) insurance premiums for manually driven cars will not rise, as the risk of driving them is already by definition priced into current insurance rates.

      Insurance rates aren’t set by the *relative* risk of your car; they’re set by the *actual* risk. Otherwise the presence of new s-classes and A8s would make rates on beat-up Toyota Echos with fogged headlights higher. They don’t.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        “Unless the presence of autonomous vehicles makes driving regular cars riskier (hint: It will do the opposite)”

        This has been discussed and documented here before. The opposite is true. AVs are programmed to get rear ended many times as frequently as human-driven vehicles. They stop for imaginary obstacles, which means that they have the highest accident frequency on the road but that other people end up paying the freight. The good thing is that horrible no-fault auto insurance states finally have a reason.

        • 0 avatar
          PeriSoft

          Well, if there are enough AVs on the road for there to be any potential for them to be a defacto requirement, those issues will have been resolved; further, by that point, AEB systems on normal cars will be good and ubiquitous enough to make it easier to avoid those situations anyway. I consider it unlikely that AV trunk-punting will be common enough to increase insurance rates to punitive levels.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            As long as being completely wrong about one of your assumptions doesn’t change your position, you’re probably right the rest of the time. Where do you stand on climate change, so I can bask in your wisdom?

          • 0 avatar
            PeriSoft

            The other thing to consider is that if rear-ending is a serious issue, it’ll affect other AVs as much as regular cars. So *everybody’s* insurance will go up equally, and that would serve to even further obscure any advantage for AV insurance rates. So in neither case do I see insurance rates driving AV adoption.

            For what it’s worth, I view the “gets in lots of accidents but is never at fault” issue as a serious, maybe existential, potential problem for AVs. It requires very subtle understanding of driving to prevent, will generate lots of bad PR, and its nature will make it very difficult to predict and then to understand and fix – and it won’t show up until a lot of AVs are already on the road, which means some of the tech paths will be far along and won’t be easy to walk back.

            In the end, I doubt any of this will be a real-world issue; I’ve worked directly with quite a few researchers in this field and they do not share the (recent but now waning) optimism of startup and industry c-suites. I suspect it will be a very long time before full autonomy exists outside tightly controlled circumstances.

            On the bright side, a lot of the sensor and processing research is going to be helpful in that avoidance systems are going to get a -lot- better, resulting in cars that are much less likely to hit your car when driven by distracted, drunk, or otherwise incompetent humans. We and the insurers can both celebrate that.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            It is possible that AVs are singularly effective at slamming on the brakes, whether there be a cause or not. Another AV slamming on the brakes ahead is a real cause. The first AV slamming on the brakes because of the shadow from a cloud is not good behavior. It happens to Mazdas with automatic braking though.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    This is a business opportunity – replacement mirrors. Will sell regular mirrors to replace this stupidity.

    But think about this. You come some strange place and you want to see who is approaching your car and from where. And you need to keep your car on to do that. ####

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      If you find yourself in that kind of situation often enough for it to affect the trim level of your car purchase, you have much bigger problems than screen-based mirrors.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        Or you’re a private investigator. Living in a Blue city would do it too, but I guess that is covered by your statement about having much bigger problems.

        • 0 avatar
          PeriSoft

          Is there any issue out there, at all, which you don’t see through a lens of virulent tribal partisanship? You seem like a smart guy, and there are things I’d engage with you on, but man, stuff like this just makes it seem so pointless…

      • 0 avatar
        slavuta

        I don’t know about often, but a few times. Last time parked at the traffic light, my car was approached by some not-pretty-looking dude. And then this bastard stuck his hand inside his coat while coming directly to my driver side door. I had my finger on the trigger right below window. Car ahead started to move and I was rolling away while monitoring him. So, yea, situational awareness at all times, and ability to run someone over when needed, in my world, is better than nannies that will stop me from doing so.

  • avatar
    Polka King

    There is but one advantage for video: It’s more expensive.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      You might be surprised. The total savings from avoiding making a heated, position-controlled mirror might well be greater than any additional cost from cameras (dirt dirt cheap) and oled panels inside (much cheaper than you think).

      Correctly set up OLEDs won’t have the brightness issues everyone is talking about (the OLED in my IP is fine at night) but I agree with concerns about refocusing on a close-in object for quick checks. Ideal solution would be high quality OLED autostereoscopy to create an image at infinite focus, but not sure where the state of the art stands there.

      • 0 avatar
        ToolGuy

        PeriSoft, excellent, excellent comment – thank you.

        Current mirror system would include (depending on features):
        – Housing – painted in body color in separate process/location, so all the joys of color matching/process control [start to notice clear coat peeling, paint issues, UV exposure issues on mirror housings of a certain age and you will never unsee it]
        – Wiring harness (with leads for power, heat, dimming)
        – Two motors (up/down, left/right) plus gears/mechanism
        – The mirror adjustment switch (relatively complex) plus escutcheon [plus real estate]
        – Heated feature/cost
        – Electrochromic (self-dimming) feature/cost

        [We are not counting OSRVM-mounted turn signal indicators, blind spot sensors/indicators, around-view cameras, etc. which may currently be included with the mirror assembly but don’t directly relate to mirror function.]

      • 0 avatar
        Steve65

        Doesn’t solve the “single, fixed perspective” problem though.

      • 0 avatar
        Garak

        It’s best of both worlds, really: it seems like a high tech solution and can be sold at a premium, while it’s dirt cheap in real life. I mean, Chinese backup camera kits with screens cost less than 20$.

  • avatar
    TMA1

    The back up camera in my Mustang was dead at less than 3 years old. It was still under warranty when I sold it, so I didn’t have to deal with the cost of replacing it.

    In a world where dealerships want hundreds of dollars just to program a key, how many cars are going to go to the junkyard because it’s not cost-effective to replace one of the four cameras required to be on future cars? Annual safety inspections will take plenty of functional cars off the road.

    Maybe that’s part of the plan. Too many poor folks driving reliable old junkers when they should be riding the bus and experiencing all the diversity and culture the city has to offer.

  • avatar
    Guitar man

    “”What made the Super Beetle so super, you ask? Futuristic McPherson struts in the front, plus a few other changes that didn’t seem to make the Super drive much better than the regular Beetle””

    It was really a completely different car.

    The main changes to the suspension were at the back – the lethal swing axle suspension was replaced with a trailing arm set-up adapted from the Porsche.

    This vehicle won a number of Touring Car championships until the rules were changed to keep it out of the competition.

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