Are Mirrorless Cars Inevitable?

Cameras provide a better 360-degree view, but mirrors still have advantages.

If you’re like most drivers, you probably glance at your mirrors every few seconds. In the next decade, however, that may change.

Increasingly, concept cars are popping up without mirrors. At next week’s Frankfurt Motor Show , for example, Kia is expected to roll out a sleek station wagon with no side mirrors. Similarly, Tesla earlier this year provided a glimpse of its Model Y crossover concept, which featured no rear-view mirrors. And BMW unveiled a mirrorless design on an i8 concept car in 2016.

 

BMW’s i8 Mirrorless concept uses two small cameras in aerodynamic holders, and a third mounted on the rear windshield. Images from the cameras are projected on a high-res display suspended from the front windshield. (Source: BMW)

 

“We’re looking for cars to have much lower drag in the near future, and mirrorless is a clear win,” noted Brad Duncan, senior director of Exa Corp. , a provider of simulation software to the auto industry. “It’s a technology improvement and it’s an aerodynamic improvement.”

Indeed, Exa engineers recently studied automotive mirrors using their PowerFlow computational fluid dynamics software and concluded that mirrorless designs would improve the average vehicle’s aerodynamics by about 6%. If spread across all US vehicles, that improvement would save a stunning 145 million gallons of fuel every year, the company said.

“The environment needs innovation to meet our greenhouse gas goals,” Duncan told us. In contrast, today’s average car burns a full tank of fuel every year, just by transporting its mirrors, Duncan added.

 

Using CFD software, engineers at Exa Corp. concluded that today’s average car burns a full tank of fuel every year, just by transporting its mirrors. (Source: Exa Corp.)

 

Automakers know this, which is why many are experimenting with mirrorless concepts. In 2016, for example, BMW showed off its i8 Mirrorless concept, which uses two small cameras in aerodynamic holders, and a third mounted on the rear windshield. Images from the cameras are projected on a high-res display suspended from the front windshield. In a press release, BMW declared, “Dangerous blindspots have been consigned to the past.”

Automotive supplier Continental AG has also developed a system for replacing exterior and interior mirrors. The system uses three cameras inside the vehicle, along with two monitors that display rear and side views of the vehicle. The company claims that the system provides a wider field of vision and better visibility in poor light and rain. It also eliminates the problem of damaged exterior mirrors and reduces road noise, Continental said.

Government Approval Needed

Still, government approval is needed in order for automakers to take the concepts to production. In 2016, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) approved the Cadillac CT6’s “hybrid” display from Gentex Corp. , which combines a mirror and camera, but it has yet to bless a complete mirrorless design. Some engineers hope the agency will follow the lead of Japan, which last year approved rules to allow automakers to replace vehicle mirrors with cameras.

Government approval, however, is just one of the hurdles facing the technology.

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