Monthly Archives: September 2016

The New Techno is Replacing Car Mirrors With Cameras

The dream of replacing car mirrors with cameras and displays continues, even though federal safety regulations prohibit the total transition from glass to, uh, backlit glass. BMW is the latest to jump onto the digitized-mirror bandwagon, albeit with a clever twist.

Unlike digitized rearview-mirror concepts from Cadillac and Nissan, not to mention the dozens of concept cars over the years with separate displays depicting left, right, and central rear views, the BMW i8 Mirrorless concept being shown at CES has just one display. Fairly large at 11.8 inches by 3 inches, the screen is mounted where a traditional rearview mirror would be, but it stitches together the feeds from three cameras to offer a panoramic and blind-spot-free view of what’s behind and to the sides of the car.

As BMW puts it, the “image of the traffic behind the car covers a greater viewing angle than could be observed using the interior and exterior mirrors. No adjustment of the camera is necessary.” Beyond a better view, the potential advantages of going digital run deeper. Exterior mirrors are bulky and unkind to a vehicle’s aerodynamic performance, while their internal workings—heaters, blind-spot warning lamps, turn indicators, and power-adjustment mechanicals—add weight. Erase those and replace them with tiny cameras, and the benefits start to roll in. BMW also set up the i8 Mirrorless concept to highlight warnings for potential trouble in its giant rearview screen; the automaker offers the example of a lane change in front of a faster-moving vehicle, during which the i8’s display will flash a warning to call out the potential risk.

Of course, there are some drawbacks to this technology that we can think of. First off, federal safety regulations continue to prohibit the use of cameras in place of mirrors. The 2016 Cadillac CT6’s digital rearview mirror passes muster only because it defaults to a normal mirror; the driver must manually switch the mirror over to its camera-fed mode. In the BMW’s case, such a work-around is impossible, since there is no traditional mirror. The side views come from tiny cameras mounted where the door mirrors used to be, while the central aft view is provided by a camera located above the rear window. Which brings us to our next potential issue: Keeping the cameras clean. If you drive at all on dirty, salted roads, you know that backup cameras easily become obscured in the muckiest of conditions. BMW claims this concept’s cameras feature Gorilla Glass lenses with a special dirt-repellent coating, and that the position of the side cameras is such that “spray water is conducted around the lens.” Let’s file the magically dirt-averse cameras under Stuff We Need to Try for Ourselves. (Nissan has dabbled in grime-resistant paint, but we haven’t tested that, either.)

After Massachusetts Reservoir

Typically, a car found at the bottom of a lake would arouse some concern or suspicion. But when a rusted, crumpled Fiat became visible in the mud of Foss Reservoir in Framingham, MA on Monday, it elicited little more than a shoulder shrug from officials.

The MetroWest Daily News reported that an old Fiat, if the hub caps identify it correctly, rests on the bottom of the reservoir, nestled between the Mass. Pike and Rte. 9. While it typically rests under millions of gallons of the state’s reserve drinking water, a recent effort to kill invasive weeds by lowering the water level has left the car in plain view.

In November, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) drew down the Foss Reservoir and some others in the area in hopes of freezing the little water left to kill invasive weeds.

Bringing the water level down about 10 feet, the MWRA revealed the car that has made the lake a home for about 40 years, MWRA representative Ria Convery said.

“(The car has) been there for a very long time,” Convery said. “I’m surprised it took someone this long to notice.”

Convery said the MWRA has known about the car for years and, if it’s the same car in question, removed its transmission and engine in 2011 when the authority last partially drained the reservoir. Though the agency removed the parts that would contain oil, Convery said removing the full vehicle would be difficult.

“We’re working with partners at (the Department of Conservation and Recreation) to see if there’s a way to get it out of there, but we want to make sure it doesn’t fall apart when you touch it,” she said. “It’s not like you can back a tow truck up to it.”

Convery said she’s not sure if there are other cars on the bottom of the reservoir.

Framingham Police Lt. Stephen Cronin said he’s not sure how the car got into the reservoir, but town officials checked it out a few years back to make sure there were no bodies inside. There were not.