From fuel cell vehicles to self-driving cars, new technologies for next-generation autos are gaining traction.
In a move likely to accelerate this, the United Nations World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations, which consists of major car-producing nations and sets international safety and environmental standards on vehicles, said in November it will allow carmakers worldwide to replace side and rear mirrors with camera monitor systems.
Following the U.N. panel’s decision, the transport ministry will from June allow mirrorless cars on to the nation’s roads.
Following are questions and answers about the mirrorless system, which could be the new standard for vehicles in the near future:
What is a mirrorless car?
A mirrorless car does not have rear-view and side-view mirrors.
Instead, the car is equipped with a sophisticated camera monitor system that shows drivers surrounding views on small screens positioned in front of them.
Although the concept itself isn’t necessarily new, because some automakers already equip vehicles with cameras and monitors to show what is around a car, mirrors are still required under current regulations.
What are the advantages of mirrorless cars?
Replacing mirrors with vehicle proximity cameras is said to enhance safety because unlike current rearview mirrors, they eliminate blind spots, transport ministry official Masaru Miyashita said.
The mirrorless system also allows drivers to use advanced imaging technology, including night vision and wide angle cameras.
Miyashita said it is hoped that mirrorless cars will be a step toward practical use of next-generation auto technologies, including self-driving cars.
“If the camera and monitor system becomes fully developed, things like operating a self-driving long-distance truck remotely from home could be possible,” he said.
Moving to mirrorless systems will also allow automakers to become more creative with car designs.
Unlike mirrors that have to be strategically positioned for drivers, cameras can be located anywhere on a vehicle, said Yuri Iwata, a spokeswoman for auto parts maker Denso Corp., which develops camera monitor systems for vehicles.
“Mirrorless cars may allow automobile manufacturers to produce a vehicle with futuristic, unconventional designs that now are only concept cars shown at motor shows,” Iwata said.
Design flexibility would allow carmakers to improve vehicle aerodynamics, thus producing better fuel efficiency at high speeds and leading to more streamlined buses and large trucks, she said.
Will changes come suddenly with deregulation?
No. Drivers will need time to adjust their habits to accommodate the mirrorless system, Miyashita of the transport ministry said.
At first, monitors and the cameras must be positioned in the same place as current rear-view and side-view mirrors and offer the same views, he said.
“Getting used to (monitors instead of mirrors) is the main factor to ensure drivers’ safety,” he said.
How are things progressing?
The technology behind the camera monitor system is already established and ready to enter the market, Denso’s Iwata said.
“In terms of safety, (the camera monitor system) is already good enough to detect such objects as cars, bicycles and pedestrians; drivers can comprehend surrounding circumstances without problems,” she said.
Some automobile companies have already shown off mirrorless technologies as concept cars at international exhibitions.
German automaker BMW, for one, demonstrated its next-generation BMW i8 Mirrorless at the Consumer Electronic Show 2016 held at Las Vegas in January.
Instead of mirrors, the BMW i8 Mirrorless boasts two slim, wing-like side cameras on each side of the car as well as a third camera placed inside the rear window. The surrounding views are displayed on monitors attached on the windshield, where the rear-view mirror is usually located.
“The display technology is the most challenging component. The development gets more complex to provide sophisticated features,” a spokesman for BMW said via email.
What hurdles remain for widespread use of mirrorless cars?
Unlike mirror images, the mirrorless system has yet to accurately reproduce colors on the monitor, Denso’s Iwata said.
“Although (color accuracy) does not affect safety . . . we believe it will affect the commercial value of products,” she said.
Another challenge is maintaining the basic functionality of conventional cars while pursuing unconventional designs, she said, pointing out that side mirrors have been used by drivers to gauge the width of their cars.
Another concern is how to ensure safety if a monitor malfunctions, Miyashita of the transport ministry said.
“When the system is completely broken, drivers may be able to tell because nothing would be shown on the monitors. But the challenge is how to warn drivers when there is a slight delay in images — like when a monitor doesn’t immediately show what is present,” he said.
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