By Tuan Nguyen
Posting in Design
A math professor has figured out a way to eliminate blind spots using a slightly curved mirror that doesn't distort objects.
Contributor’s Note: "It exists!" is a series that occasionally spotlights innovative ideas and solutions for some of the most common problems in our everyday lives.
The use of rear of mirrors are often credited for having prevented countless potential car accidents. Yet there can be a tendency for drivers to rely on them too much, which ironically has even led to quite a few collisions.
The crux of the problem is that while driver side rear view mirrors gives drivers an accurate sense of the distance of cars behind them, the field of view is very narrow. Alternatives like wide angle mirrors help, but tend to make vehicles appear tiny and distant. That's why drivers are advised, before switching lanes, to glance over their shoulder to check their "blind spot," a region of space behind the car that drivers can't see when just using either the side or rear-view mirror. But now, at long last, a solid solution is within sight.
Andrew Hicks, a math professor at Drexel University, has figured out a way to eliminate blind spots by designing a mirror that's slightly curved to give the driver a wider 45-degree field of vision, instead of the 15 to 17 degrees of view in a standard flat version. Typically, bending a mirror even slightly causes objects to appear distorted, but Hicks makes this a non-issue by basing the design on a mathematical algorithm that precisely controls the angle of light bouncing off of the curving mirror.
“Imagine that the mirror’s surface is made of many smaller mirrors turned to different angles, like a disco ball,” he explains. “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.”
If his metaphor seems a bit, um, unclear, here's the gist of it: On the mirror's surface, there are tens of thousands of finely-tuned adjustments that, although invisible to the naked eye, help to reflect light in a manner in which objects appear as they should from the driver's perspective. The result is a mirror that has a smooth, yet nonuniform curve.
The major hurdle that will likely keep Hick's invention from becoming standard in future vehicles is a government regulation that requires mirrors on the driver's side to be flat. Curved mirrors are allowed for passenger-side mirrors, but only if they include the phrase “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.” However, outside of the U.S., some countries in Europe and Asia do allow slightly curved mirrors on new cars.
The good news is that Hicks has received a U.S. patent as well interest from investors and manufacturers who may pursue opportunities to license and produce the mirror. If things work out, his blind-spot free mirror may be available as an after-market replacement option.
When that happens (if it does), I'd say definitely look into it.
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Jun 7, 2012
Has anybody used a wink mirror? I have one. It is a long (about 30 inches X 2 inches) mirror that is actually five small mirrors in a row that are set at angles to give you a panoramic view of more than 180 degrees behind you. It replaces your inside mirror, is above your line of forward sight, and works great! At first it is a little disconcerting to see all that activity going on behind and beside you, but you get used to it. The distance perception is accurate because regular mirrors are used. (which makes a wink mirror relatively cheap to buy.) Try one you'll like it. Jeff
With each part of the mirror so finely tuned to reflect light in a certain way, I have to wonder if the driver's head position will matter. With flat mirrors, for example, what you see is determined by where your head is.
My 12-year old truck has blind-spot detection - one pair of Mark 1 eyeballs, and a head that swivels. Turn your head and look. Do we not teach that in Driver's Ed anymore?
"Blind spot detectors" (on new, higher end cars), "magic mirrors". A free solution already exists if drivers simply adjust their side mirrors properly. Mistakenly, people set them so that the view from the normal sitting position has the inside edge view of each mirror just grazing the side of the vehicle. But you don't need to see the side of your vehicle; you need to see the traffic! Instead, position your head near the driver's window and then adjust that mirror so the inside edge view just grazes the side of the vehicle. Then for the passenger side, position your head near the center of the vehicle for adjusting the mirror. In this way you will be able to observe traffic moving from your rear view mirror, to your side mirror, to your peripheral vision, with no blind spot. People initially find this new way unsettling because the side mirror view doesn't seem to be "anchored" to anything (the side of the car), but in practice this way produces a much safer, more complete picture for traffic awareness.
The 'flat' regulation is only because of the possible perception that an object may be farther away. If there is an exception that works, a Bill would have to pass Congress and the President's desk to make room for that exception. Petition your legislators. In today's "we need to create jobs" legislative environment, this kind of exception would be a shoo-in. As to whether an electronic device (cameras) would be installed over a static mechanical solution, the obvious answer is "it depends on which option the automakers think they can sell at a profit". Even though I'm a geek, unless the fancy mirror costs significantly more than the electronic option, I'd go for the mirror.
The image in the illustration is extremely clear and crisp but the new mirror still seems to make objects look 'tiny and distant'. Is this really the case? If so I could only imagine using one of these as an auxiliary mirror...and anyway won't we have rear view cameras in all cars soon?
I hope the laws can be updated to allow it's use. Any production costs available? Are we looking at a $400 mirror replacement if it breaks?
I agree. I set my mirrors the same way. And it works great for me. All three mirrors have a different purpose. The mirror in the center of the windshield is the rear-view mirror. The mirrors on the doors are side-view mirrors. Most people (including the author, Nguyen) seem to be confused by both the terminology and purpose of the various mirrors. As a car comes up behind you it should appear first in your rear-view mirror, then in your side-view mirror, and finally in the side window. As you pass a car, it should appear in your side window, then the side-view mirror, and finally in the rear-view mirror. If your side-view mirrors are properly adjusted there will be little or no overlap between the rear and side mirrors.
If the photo gives us a true representation of what we would see, objects in the new mirror are much, much closer than they appear!
Mirrors are less prone to failure than cameras. Mirrors can be broken. So can cameras, but cameras are also prone to power issues, display problems, cabling issues, interference (wireless cameras) and a host of other things that simple mirrors are not bothered by. To use an old example - The more complex the plumbing, the easier it is to back up the toilets. For that reason, I do not see them being discarded.