Disco Ball Inspires Professor to Develop New Side Mirror
Slightly curved mirror eliminates blind spots without creating a distorted view for the driver.
Most drivers probably don’t give a lot of thought to their car’s side mirrors. But automakers do, and in the past few years we’ve witnessed several innovations regarding these exterior protuberances.
Ford’s Blind Spot Mirror, introduced on 2009 model-year vehicles, features a secondary convex “spotter” section in the top outer corner to give drivers a better view alongside the vehicle. And more sophisticated blind spot detection systems that use cameras to scope out another car in a driver’s no-see-'em zone, then flash a visual indicator implanted in the side mirrors, have become more common.
Now Drexel University mathematics professor R. Andrew Hicks has received a patent for a subtly curved side-view mirror that he says dramatically increases the field of view for a driver, and with minimal visual distortion. Hicks designed the mirror using a mathematical algorithm that precisely manipulates the angle of light bouncing off it. His inspiration, though, was a bit less academic: The professor was inspired by the disco ball.
“Imagine that the mirror’s surface is made of many smaller mirrors turned to different angles, like a disco ball,” Hicks said in a press release. “The algorithm is a set of calculations to manipulate the direction of each face of the metaphorical disco ball so that each ray of light bouncing off the mirror shows the driver a wide but not-too-distorted picture of the scene behind him.”
Drivers get an accurate sense of the distance of cars behind them with the traditional flat mirrors on the driver’s side of a vehicle, but the field of view is narrow. Consequently, there’s a blind spot that drivers can’t see when looking in either the side or rearview mirror. A curved mirror gives the driver a wider field of view -- and eliminates the blind spot -- but with lots of visual distortion, making objects appear smaller and farther away.
Hicks’ mirror, designed for the driver’s side, has a field of view of about 45 degrees, compared with the 15 to 17 degrees for a flat driver’s-side mirror. And unlike simple curved mirrors that can compress the perceived shape of objects and make straight lines appear curved, visual distortion of shapes and straight lines are barely perceptible with Hicks’ invention.
Don’t expect his curved mirror to come with new cars any time soon. U.S. regulations mandate that all new cars must have a flat mirror on the driver’s side. And while curved mirrors are allowed for passenger-side mirrors, they must include the warning we all know well: “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.”
But Hicks’ mirror may be manufactured and sold as an aftermarket add-on for owners to install on cars. He’s already received interest from investors and manufacturers about licensing and producing the mirror.
And before you think that his invention could be distracting, or even just a fun-house style diversion on a long trip, Hicks noted that the mirror doesn’t look at all like a disco ball up close. He crunched tens of thousands of calculations to produce a mirror that has a nonuniform but smooth curve. But if they become available and you add one to your car, feel free to cue up the "Saturday Night Fever" soundtrack anyway.
[News source: Autoblog]
I'm hoping the picture is not showing the new mirror because what is shown is exactly the same thing that occurs with the curved right side mirror: objects are much closer than they appear. The car you can see in the left side of the car's mirror looks really far away in the mirror being held above it.
If you can see the back of your car without moving your head, you are creating the blind spots. That goes for either of the side mirrors.
I have both my side mirrors adjusted so I must slightly lean toward the mirror to see the back of my car. Between the two side mirrors and the center rear view mirror, I do not have a significant blind spot. Now I turn my head slightly just to make sure one of those Smart Cars (or any of the other "cars" that are no bigger than my spare tire) is in the way. With those tiny "cars" on the highway, sometimes I'm not sure if I hit a bump in the road or just ran over one of them by mistake while changing lanes.
Basically, when I see a vehicle in my center rear view mirror, just before it "disappears" from the center rear view mirror, it enters into view of my side mirror (it is the same for both the right and left side of my van; you know those vehicles that have some of the worst "blind spots"). Just before the vehicle "disappears" from the side mirror, I can now see it in my peripheral vision. The procedure is reversed if I am passing the other vehicle.
Also, with my mirrors adjusted like this, I can back up any regular passenger vehicle (car, van, pick-up, SUV, mini van, box van/truck, etc.) into a parking space, driveway, garage, etc., just using the mirrors if necessary.
Since I have learned to properly adjust my side mirrors I have not come close to "side-swiping" another vehicle in nearly 20 years (knock on wood). I have also been able to avoid being "side-swiped" by another vehicle that would have otherwise been in the "blind-spot".
They way I check my mirror adjustment is by pulling up along side a parked car (simulating as if it is in the lane next to me on the road) and creeping forward until I the car starts to "disappear" from my peripheral vision (basically just seeing the very front of the car). I stop at this point and then adjust my side mirror to see the rear of the parked car. Then I'll pull forward until I see the parked car enter into view of my center rear view mirror, making sure my center mirror is adjusted properly to see behind my car. If I can only see the very front of the parked car in my side mirror, then it is adjusted properly. A few people I know who have adjusted their mirrors like I do have reported that it has helped them see a vehicle that was in the former "blind-spot".
Once you have properly adjusted your mirrors, try driving down a street with a line of parked cars and see the difference.
You may also have to adjust your side mirrors up or down to optimize the almost complete elimination of your "blind-spot".
I know in NJ the Driver's Manual says to adjust the side mirrors so you can see the rear of your vehicle, but that same manual also tells you to handle a front-wheel drive car "fish-tailing" the same way you handle a rear-wheel drive car "fish-tailing". The handbook is not written by an expert or professional driver, it was written by some desk-jockeys who have nominal driving skill.
You cannot legislate stupidity.
I have seen cars without mirrors (any) or missing either the driver's side or rear view mirror. I have actually seen several occasions where a woman without any mirrors used her compact mirror to see behind her.
Of course, I have also seen drivers who do not understand the function of the mirrors and pull out in front of you without looking. No mirror will fix this problem.
A fellow named Dick Hodges in Mtn. View, or Sunnyvale, CA invented a mirror that you could see all sides of the car, that was in the 50's, and he was building them in his garage. Wonder what ever happened to him or his idea. I was in the Navy and shipped out and lost contact with the family. I dated one of his daughters.
his mirror looks like a new innovation to aid in safe driving.. put a switch on the mirror to turn off cellphone while driving.. then it's a home run1
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