A rear-vision system that replaces all mirrors with digital images will be standard on the BMW that introduces it, likely in 2018.
Replacing mirrors with cameras has been a concept-car gimmick for years.
But when Wheels tried a mirrorless i8 concept car at the Consumer Electronics Show this month in Las Vegas, BMW assured us that this futuristic technology would make production.
A 300mm-wide Panasonic screen replaces a conventional rear-view mirror, and is fed images from a stereo camera inside the top of the rear window.
It also gets images from cameras on streamlined stalks that replace side mirrors (pictured below). The side cameras use ultra-tough Gorilla Glass, and are heated to prevent them freezing.
Images from all three cameras images are patched together on-screen.
Initially, two things seem odd. First, you no longer look at the side mirrors, just the screen. Second, projected onto the bottom of the screen is an image that looks back over the i8’s bonnet, which during trials was deemed essential to give perspective.
But the system works well. It isn’t entirely seamless as a car moves from one portion of the screen to another, but it doesn’t jar. And you do get an 80-degree field of vision, eliminating blind spots and removing any need to faff with mirror adjustment.
The stereo camera – like two digital eyes – judges speed and distance. As a vehicle approaches, a red square is ghosted over that portion of the screen.
There are further benefits from the high-tech side mirrors. They are slimmer than conventional lumps, and hence interfere less with the driver’s forward vision. And they are no wider than the car’s rear haunches, and three percent more aerodynamic than what they replace. That unlocks a one percent fuel saving and, more tangibly, should make the cabin quieter – although our low-speed experience was inconclusive.
The remaining question hangs over what you do when – if the system were fitted to a bigger vehicle – a large trailer blocks the rear cameras.
Mirrorless cars could be on the road sooner than you think. The European homologation process begins this year, while the US will follow in 2017, and Asia no later than 2018.
BMW says the system will be standard rather than optional, to avoid engineering both conventional and mirrorless systems, and will debut on an all-new car. Insiders also hint that mirrorless technology will help bring autonomous cars to market.
There’s no official on-sale date, but BMW’s i saloon just happens to be scheduled for 2018. That’d be our bet.