by Paul Williams
Your vehicle’s rear-view mirror is no longer the humble device it once was. Mirrors, you may have noticed, are becoming prime real estate for a new range of automotive electronic systems.
The sky’s the limit, literally, as technologies bundled into 21st century rear-view mirrors will connect with satellite-based GPS and telecommunications systems.
But for now, a new VideoMirror camera-vision system from Michigan-based Donnelly Corporation addresses safety issues closer to home, even in your driveway.
BabyVue video mirror
ReverseAid video mirror
The VideoMirror can be purchased as a ReversAid or BabyVue system, or it can be ordered with both systems.
The ReversAid consists of a tiny camera that’s mounted at the rear of your vehicle. A thin wire, hidden in your vehicle’s headliner, connects the camera to a special rear-view mirror that features a small, flip-down video monitor. The mirror and its monitor replace your existing interior rear-view mirror.
The system is powered by connecting it to the dome light, or some other nearby power source. Once up and running, you can use the monitor to see what’s behind your vehicle. It activates when you put the car in reverse.
Is it a frivolous expense that duplicates your mirror? No, in certain applications it can be life-saving.
It turns out that each year in the US, an average of 390 people are killed in off-road crashes involving vehicles backing up. Tragically, 116 of these annual fatalities are children, most between the ages of 1 and 4. Compare this to the 11 fatalities each year that precipitated US internal trunk-release legislation, and you can see the scale of the problem.
According to Frank O’Brien, Donnelly VP of Corporate Marketing and Consumer Products, “The vast majority of these accidents involve people in vans and SUVs backing up in parking lots, or even in their own driveway.”
It’s no surprise that owners of vehicles like these are very interested in this system.
“The thing is,” says O’Brien, “you just can’t see what’s behind you when backing in a van or SUV. These vehicles are big, and you’re high up. It’s easy to miss things, especially small children.”
The BabyVue system is a variation on the ReversAid theme. In this configuration the camera is directed inside the vehicle.
Ironically, new legislation in the US concerning child seats has created the need for the BabyVue system. The legislation requires babies under 12 months old or weighing less than 9kg to be transported in rear-facing child seats, installed in the rear seat.
O’Brien points to vans and SUVs again when he says that the second row of seats in these vehicles if often located well behind the driver’s seat. This creates a situation where the rear-facing child is out of reach, and can’t properly be seen.
Apparently, drivers will often panic if the baby is perceived to be in distress. This causes the driver to reach back while driving, often causing an accident.
O’Brien says the average driver looks at the rear-view mirror every 15 seconds. While checking the mirror, the video monitor also affords a quick glance at the child, ensuring that all is well.
One more thing about the Donnelly mirror: it’s electro-chromatic, also known as auto-dimming. You’ll find these mirrors are very effective at reducing glare while driving at night.
Each of the camera vision systems, including the auto-dimming mirror, sells for US$499.00. Or, you can install a combination system that includes the auto-dimming mirror, BabyVue and ReversAid for US$649.00.
Obviously, these are not inexpensive items, but O’Brien expects that with volume production will come a reduction in price. One would think that schools or daycare centers managing children on a daily basis would also consider systems like these.
There are alternatives to the ReversAid system. An Ottawa company, Trilogix Electronic Systems, offers a $120.00 product called Sonar Vision through its 12voltshop.com website. I’ll be doing a review of this product in a future column.
Like ReversAid, it activates when you put the vehicle in reverse. It emits an audio alarm if an object is detected within its range behind the vehicle.
Similarly, Ford offers a reverse sensing device on some of its trucks and vans. The Super Duty Pickup, Expedition, Navigator, Windstar, and, in 2002 the Explorer either feature or can be ordered with this device. It typically adds between $320-$350 to the price of the vehicle.
Order the Donnelly products online from www.donnelly.com. As far as installation goes, the units come with detailed instructions and a handy person could do the job. However, most would use a technician.
In the future, look for smart mirrors, camera vision systems and audio alerts to be sold through car stereo installers, and electronics stores with automotive departments. Devices like these will emerge as a whole new family of safety and convenience products for the automotive aftermarket industry.