New Tech for Better Backups

According to the organization Kids and Cars, nearly 100 children were killed in 2005 as a result of vehicles backing over them.

According to the organization Kids and Cars, nearly 100 children were killed in 2005 as a result of vehicles backing over them. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its own study late last year showing that more than 2,400 children are injured each year as a result of vehicle back-over accidents. These frightening statistics clearly bring to light the need for more advanced back up detection systems. Since only 9% of SUVs and large trucks are equipped with some sort of backup device, Magna International’s (www.magna.com) claim that the VideoMirror system that it introduced last month as the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas will likely save lives is undoubtedly no exaggeration. What’s more, the video-based system is said to be affordable, so it may actually be deployed.

VideoMirror utilizes a 3.5-in. LED-backlit display which deploys from the right-hand side of the inside rear-view mirror (the screen can deploy from the left side for U.K. applications), along with a small video camera mounted on the rear of the vehicle, to provide real-time images of what’s behind the vehicle while in reverse. The screen recesses back into the mirror when the vehicle is placed into a forward gear. What makes the VideoMirror system unique is the fact that it is independent from on-board navigation systems, a common prerequisite to obtaining camera-based backup detection systems. Packaging is simplified, and as an option, it can generate more revenue. Magna expects the VideoMirror system to gain wide-spread OEM support in the near term. The supplier has already received one contact from a domestic OE, providing the system as optional equipment on a vehicle launching in North America in early 2006 (we’re anticipating it will be the GMT 900 vehicles, though Magna execs are mum). “We have already shipped production parts and the system will appear in a domestic vehicle program,” says Charon McNabb, program director for the VideoMirror system. “This will bring video-based backup detection to those consumers who aren’t interested in navigation and were unable to afford the option. Now they can afford it.” McNabb estimates the VideoMirror system costs nearly ¼ that of traditional navigation-based backup systems, which can cost as much as $2,000.

To prove the benefits of the VideoMirror, Magna outfitted two ’05 Hummer H2s with the system and provided a quick test. With the camera aligned with the H2’s trailer hitch, the test was to see how close the driver could actually align the hitch to the receiver without hitting it. Move the gear shifter into reverse and the screen emerges like clockwork. Although the image seems a bit distorted, similar to the image seen when looking through a convex mirror, the image was crisp and clear. On the first attempt, the H2 ended up nearly 3 feet away from the receiver. The second attempt ended with better results, while the third attempt was spot-on. The biggest advantage of the VideoMirror system is the screen location: Right in the line of sight of the rear-view mirror, where the driver intuitively looks during a reverse maneuver. The screen is about the same size of those found on video camcorders. McNabb acknowledges there are some shortcomings to the system, particularly when it comes to first-time use. She adds the accuracy at judging distance improves with use. McNabb says the supplier is already hard at work on the next-generation VideoMirror which will likely include the addition of ultrasonic or video object detection, similar to the system found on several Infiniti vehicles. “The next generation, which is targeted to launch in 2007, will have either graphical overlays to tell the exact distance of the object or ultrasonic,” McNabb says. Magna also is studying the possibility of using the display to provide turn-by-turn navigation, along with the availability of USB, WiFi and serial ports for connecting peripheral devices. One thing that has already been eliminated from consideration is integrating the video screen directly into the mirror via a through-the-glass display. Magna’s engineers say they have tested such a system and comprises in image clarity, along with human interface issues, virtually eliminate that option. “As the human eye matures it has difficulty focusing on different focal lengths so when you focus your eyes on a mirror that has a focal distance of infinity and then on a display that has a focal point from your eyes to the screen, your brain struggles at which to look at,” McNabb says. Introduction of the current system into the aftermarket is also on tap to begin in the next 6-7 months, although McNabb refuses to provide details on how much VideoMirror will cost as an aftermarket option. Magna will produce the VideoMirror at its Holland, MI, plant, where more than 15 million mirrors roll off the line each year.