The problem with being in the sales business is the need to constantly outdo your rivals. Automakers know this better than just about anyone, which is why you see gimmicky features installed into vehicles that probably would have been just as good without them. But one never knows what’s going to catch on with consumers and you’ll never catch the big one if you don’t go fishing, so you’ll see patents filed on just about everything.
BMW has reportedly done just that with its new virtual mirror technology system that merges camera-based mirrors with olde-tyme projection technologies. The purpose appears to be something that replicates the experience of traditional side mirrors (which work fine) while adding some modern features that can only be accomplished using the newer stuff.
First shared by the BMW i4Talk forum, Bavaria’s latest patent swaps side mirrors for cameras but ditches the video display they normally require for a partially opaque reflective section on the windows. Imagines are beamed from inside the cabin onto that area, giving an experience that can offer modern HUD features without the need for another screen. Drivers will also benefit from their cars becoming a wee bit more aerodynamic since there’s no need for exterior mirrors.
It’s an interesting concept. The patent filing (issued with the European Patent Office) makes it seem as though it’s not going to be taking up much cabin space and will be more intuitive for veteran drivers to transition into. But it does come with the obvious problem of not being able to roll down certain parts of your side windows. The patent details mention this, suggesting that the semi-mirrored glass could effectively be moved elsewhere and be made stationary. BMW also wants the ability to have the brightness be adjustable so that drivers can see clearly during daylight hours without also being blinded after sundown.
But it’s far from a perfect solution.
Our biggest qualm is that camera-based systems don’t allow you to modify your field of view by repositioning your head. This was a concern similarly shared by TheDrive and one that should be of particular concern to safety regulators. Camera systems provide a fixed perspective from wherever they’re installed, while mirrors allow you to owl your skull around to take in more of the road. It’s the kind of thing you don’t even think about until you’re sitting inside a vehicle wholly dependent upon cameras and realize something that sounds good on paper doesn’t always work out in practice.
Though the biggest issue is always that cameras add a needless amount of complexity to a system that has been mostly bulletproof since its inception. Blind-spot alerts have been a welcome inclusion (when they aren’t discouraging drivers from double-checking with a head turn) but they don’t really alter what side mirrors do. We also cannot imagine a world where side-mounted cameras with projectors will be cheaper to replace than a piece of reflective glass encased in plastic, nor one where they last longer or require less cleaning to ensure a faithful image.
But it’s not a problem in the United States because camera-based mirror systems aren’t legally allowed to supplant mirrors, even though it’s illegal for manufacturers not to equip vehicles without a video display that springs to life anytime you’re in reverse. Go figure.
[Image: sylv1rob1/Shutterstock; BMW/European Patent Office]