Automotive

It’ll be just fine if we never get digital camera side mirrors

Digital side camera mirrors

Digital side-view mirror tech is one of those technologies that U.S.-market cars haven’t been allowed to enjoy just yet. A number of manufacturers offer vehicles in Europe or Asia with the aero-improving tech, but current American vehicle regulations mean cars here need to be sold with old fashioned mirrors. And let me tell you folks — after trying out digital side view mirrors on a Euro-market car, I’d be completely fine if they never make it here.

Just so we’re all on the same page, digital side mirrors replace the physical mirrors on either side with cameras. The cameras are affixed to thin stalks protruding from the same area as a typical mirror, and said live camera feed is piped into screens on either side of the car in the same general space you’d divert your eyes to in order to look at a mirror. 

A couple undeniable benefits come into play here. For one, the car becomes more aerodynamically efficient. Traditional mirrors are a big drag (literally) on a car’s coefficient of drag figure. Look at the Audi Q8 E-Tron as an example. The U.S.-spec version with traditional mirrors faces a 0.02 increase in its coefficient of drag versus the Euro-spec Q8 E-Tron with its digital side mirrors. For an EV — where total range is a major buying metric — that’s a big number, and it’s going to make a noticeable difference. Secondly, mirrors are notorious for causing wind noise in the cabin. Manufacturers try their best to engineer around it, but there’s no denying that a big thing sticking out the side of the car is going to produce noise at 70 mph. When you drastically reduce the size of that protrusion, as a small camera in place of a mirror does, the noise it produces naturally goes down, too. That’s great!

Those are the pluses. The unfortunate downside is that side-view cameras just aren’t that nice or natural to use in practice. I got to spend about eight hours in the saddle of a 2024 Audi Q8 E-Tron with its side cameras recently, and even after that amount of time, I never grew to like the tech. Of the problems, the most notable is the shift in perspective your eyes and brain are forced to endure every time you look at the in-cabin screens. When shifting your eyes from the road to a traditional mirror, your focus and view of the world naturally stays the same. Spatially, our brains sort out — or at least years of driving has trained them to — distances, closing speeds and more when we see a vehicle in a mirror. Go…

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