Recent revisions of the transport ministry’s automobile safety standards no longer require vehicles to be equipped with a rear-view and side-view mirrors if they come with outboard cameras and an in-car image monitor.
The new systems are required to have the same image quality and range of vision of rear-view mirrors, and the monitor must be installed at a location where it does not disturb driving.
The new standards took effect on June 18. Passenger cars, trucks, buses and other vehicles with the new system that have been authenticated by the transport ministry will be allowed to operate on public roads.
The review of the automobile safety standards came in response to a revision of global vehicle regulations that took place last year at a United Nations forum. The latest developments in camera capabilities and image processing technologies have set the stage for the trend in allowing the substitution. Japan and Europe are expected to lead the global trend toward similar deregulation measures.
The introduction of rear-view cameras is expected to enhance safety. For example, the cameras would eliminate driver blind spots, thereby reducing accidents when the car is put in reverse and other accidents. It would also make it easier to assess conditions behind the car when it is raining or when bulky luggage is in a rear seat.
Further, the elimination of side-view mirrors protruding from the vehicle body would help reduce air resistance.
“That would help improve fuel efficiency and reduce whistling noises,” said a senior Toyota Motor Corp. official.
The freedom of exterior design is also expected to increase.
Automakers had set out on the development of mirrorless cars ahead of the deregulation measures.
During the Tokyo Motor Show last autumn, Toyota exhibited a prototype car under its luxury Lexus brand that carried no side-view mirrors on its doors.
“Of course we are looking toward mirrorless cars, which represent a technology of the future,” the senior Toyota official said.
Germany’s BMW AG also presented a prototype car with cameras mounted where door mirrors are usually located at a U.S. trade show in January.
Vehicle component manufacturers, which will be the central players of actual development, are also making inroads.
To coincide with the revision of standards, Murakami Corp., Japan’s largest manufacturer of automobile mirrors, introduced a mirror that is mounted with electronic devices so it can also be used to display images. The Shizuoka-based company is pitching the product to automakers so it potentially could be mounted on marketed cars by the end of fiscal 2018.
To accelerate development, Denso Corp., the country’s leader in manufacturing of automobile components, acquired a stake late last year in a Tokyo-based venture capital company that is studying image recognition technologies.
Hagiwara Electric Co., based in Nagoya, has developed a technology for integrating multiple camera images into a plainly visible pictures, whereby images captured with wide-angle lenses are corrected for distortions before being synthesized.
“The trend toward digitized cars, including the use of mirrorless features, presents a new business opportunity,” said Shigenobu Ishikawa, a senior executive officer with Hagiwara Electric.
There are, however, lingering safety concerns.
“Delays in transmitting images and responses to a technical problem present major challenges,” a Denso official said.
A car traveling at 100 kph covers nearly 30 meters a second. Unlike in the case of cameras that are being used to confirm rear-side views when parking a car, slight delays in displays or physical damage to cameras on running cars could endanger drivers and passengers.
Some point out that, while traditional mirrors allow humans to have an intuitive sense of positions, it could be more difficult for them to do so with a rear-view monitor.
“I have been told that in the past manufacturers exercised considerable caution when mirrors located on the front fenders were replaced with side-view mirrors mounted on the doors,” Ishikawa said. “There is an urgent need to devise ways to ensure the comfort of use for drivers.”
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