Ready for Technology to Take the Wheel?


Well, it’s 2017, and the world isn’t quite what was depicted on the 1960’s futuristic sitcom The Jetsons. But, that doesn’t mean the auto industry isn’t headed that way. Take, for example, the advancements made in automated driver assist systems (ADAS). With smart technology in full stride, will basic safety features on cars, such as side-view mirrors, become obsolete?

The BMW i8 sports a mirrorless design. Instead, it uses cameras.

Not So Fast

ADAS is intended to enhance driver and passenger safety. But, U.S. regulators and safety experts still have concerns. And one of them is the use of automotive mirrors.

Self-driving vehicles may not have a need for side- and rear-view mirrors. With vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication, cars will be able to relay safety and mobility information to one another to prevent collisions. But, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) isn’t ready to give players in the driverless car movement the “okay” to manufacture vehicles without mirrors yet.

There’s a Standard for That

NHTSA, a U.S. government agency, provides safety regulations that auto manufacturers have to comply with. From performance to equipment components, NHTSA has written and regulated standards for nearly every aspect of a vehicle. These standards are called Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS).

The standards are intended to increase roadway safety, but they were written before the self-driving vehicle movement. Now, manufacturers of driverless cars are trying to fit their concepts into these requirements. A prime example of one such manufacturer is Google.

NHTSA and Google

If you’re wondering what the connection is between Google and car manufacturing, think computers. In Google’s self-driving car, Waymo, the driver is its self-driving system (SDS), which is essentially a computer. The system would replace the need for a human driver. It sounds ideal, but where does it fit in NHTSA’s safety standards?

Meet FMVSS No. 111, one of the standards that self-driving vehicles may have a hard time reaching. This standard, Rear Visibility, states that vehicles must have external and internal rear-view mirrors that provide the driver with certain fields of vision around and behind the vehicle. No. 111 also requires vehicles to reflect a rearview image to the driver.

Google contacted NHTSA in order to see how it could certify its vehicle to the FMVSS. The company asked the administration to consider allowing its SDS receiving the reflected images as opposed to the human occupant. This would mean there would be no mirrors inside or outside of the vehicle. Instead, sensors would feed the information to the SDS.

NHTSA Weighs In

NHTSA’s chief counsel Paul Hemmersbaugh was receptive to the idea, but more research is needed before self-driving vehicles can go without mirrors.

According to Hemmersbaugh, NHTSA doesn’t have a defined way of knowing if Google’s self-driving vehicle meets the standards FMVSS No. 111 requires yet. More testing is needed to ensure its sensors are just as safe, if not safer, before it meets compliance.

Mirrorless Market Players

Mirrorless self-driving vehicles may not be ready for the U.S. market, but other countries are aggressively trying to incorporate the technology.

In late 2015, the United Nations’ World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulation gave the go-ahead to use cameras in place of mirrors, as long as they meet high-performance specs.

Japan has been quick to tap the trend. The country’s regulators have already amended vehicle requirements to allow cameras in place of mirrors beginning June 2017. So it may not be long before U.S. regulators allow the technology.

Coming to a Car Near You?

Google isn’t the only manufacturer pushing for mirrorless self-driving vehicles. Tesla, the company known for its drive toward fully automated vehicles, has been pushing for the use of cameras instead of mirrors since 2012.

NHTSA’s decision has also affected vehicles without self-driving technology. BMW introduced the BMW i8, which features a mirrorless design, but the company has yet to release more information on its production progress. Cadillac recently incorporated a rearview-camera that switches to a traditional mirror at the touch of a button to its XT5 and CT6 models.

The argument for replacing mirrors with cameras is to not only increase safety but also boost fuel economy. Lighter and smaller than side-view mirrors, cameras would cause less wind resistance, upping a vehicle’s miles per gallon.

NHTSA isn’t completely against the idea of incorporating mirrors for added driver safety. The organization has already mandated that all vehicles manufactured in 2018 and beyond must be equipped with a rearview back-up camera.

It may be some time before cameras entirely replace interior and exterior mirrors in the U.S. since manufacturers have yet to reach FMVSS No. 111. But as improvements are made and standards are met, Glass.com will bring you the latest information in this trend of going mirrorless.

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