How Smart Rearview Mirrors Work

Looking Forward by Looking Back
The Nissan ZEOD RC
The Nissan ZEOD RC
(Courtesy of Nissan)

The United States debut of the Smart Mirror system was at the 2014 New York Auto Show in April, and around that time, the Nissan Smart Mirror won the 2014 Traffic Safety Achievement Award from the World Traffic Safety Symposium. This organization seeks to recognize interesting safety innovations in the automotive industry with the potential to save lives. So, the system's safety potential is already being rewarded -- and that's before it's even available.

But there are even more benefits that have yet to be fully recognized. Nissan says the Smart Mirror system solves other problems, too, by unlocking new possibilities. The Smart Rearview Mirror offers new opportunities in car design, in ways that aren't yet immediately apparent. When car designers don't have to worry so much about constraints like C-pillar width affecting drivers' blind spots, they have more freedom to come up with new and innovative designs. But they're not experimenting just for the sake of adventure. Car designs have to balance the priorities of driver visibility and aerodynamics, but when drivers have other means of visibility, the scales can be tipped a little. This gives Nissan the potential to come up with new and more aerodynamic cars, which will in turn improve fuel efficiency. To test that potential, the Smart Mirror system is going to run some real-world miles before it starts hitting production cars on the street -- although it'll be a high-pressure situation. Nissan's motorsports program, NISMO, plans to implement the Smart system into the ZEOD RC vehicle that will be competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and other races this year. The race team gets to tinker with the car to try to improve its aerodynamics, and the team is also eager to see if the drivers think the experience is useful on the track.

If Nissan succeeds with this new technology, it doesn't mean rearview cameras as we know them will go away. In fact, the United States will require rearview cameras on all new cars by 2018 [source: Davies]. Nissan hasn't yet announced if they'll be licensing this technology to other auto manufacturers, and so far, no competitors have revealed plans for a similar system. But if Nissan's Smart Mirror continues to impress, this simple and intuitive system might become a popular option to meet new federal regulations, especially if it works as intended -- simple and efficient, with as few distractions as possible.

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