Automakers are finding new ways of using small cameras in vehicles in a quest for greater safety and security, including the first 360-degree cams that give drivers a view of blind spots in their surroundings.
The proliferation of uses for automotive video systems reflects their growing popularity. Chrysler finds nearly a third of buyers of its Pacifica family hauler opt for a backup-camera option, which costs $399 and up, spokesman Nick Cappa says.
Safety is a key issue. About 30% of all reported accidents either involve backing up or being hit from behind, Ford (F) says. Repair costs top $11 billion a year.
In an attempt to reduce the fender-bender rate, Nissan soon will offer camera systems that give an all-around view. Cameras will be discreetly mounted in the grille, side mirrors and rear of the new Infiniti EX35 crossover, available in December.
“You can see how close you are to the curb. You can see things around you, like a fire hydrant,” says Kyle Bazemore, spokesman for Nissan’s (NSANY) Infiniti luxury division.
Camera innovations from other automakers include:
- Ford. The image from the backup camera on the 2008 Ford F-150, Super Duty, Expedition and Lincoln Navigator â€” arriving in showrooms now â€” will be projected on a 2.5-inch-square display in the rear-view mirror. Previously, the image appeared on the screen of the navigation system. The option, costing about $400, will warn drivers with red, yellow and green lights if they are coming too close to an object.
- BMW. The night-vision system on a BMW from an infrared camera mounted on the front bumper shows heat emissions from people or animals up to 1,000 feet away. Spokesman Thomas Plucinsky says the system even showed him where his house was wastefully emitting heat on a frigid night.
- Â Land Rover. In Great Britain, Land Rover is trying out VentureCam, a portable wireless video camera that can be moved up to 65 feet away from the vehicle. It allows drivers to better see how to maneuver a trailer or get their Land Rover out of a rut. No plans yet to bring it to the USA, spokeswoman Deborah Sandford says.
Car cams are also showing up in the auto aftermarket. Some security systems include cameras to snap pictures of auto thieves, says Peter MacGillivray, spokesman for the Specialty Equipment Market Association, which puts on the leading auto industry aftermarket trade show each year. Racing enthusiasts can buy dashboard-mounted cams to record high-speed runs.
“It started with backup cameras and evolved into a lot of different entertainment, safety and security products,” MacGillivray says. “Technology has advanced so much