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Australian first: truck camera ‘mirrors’ point to technology coming to cars

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The latest truck by Mercedes-Benz is available with cameras instead of side mirrors, and more than half of buyers are taking up the option.

Side mirrors could soon be replaced by tiny cameras with high-resolution displays inside the cabin – to improve visibility and fuel economy.

The first vehicle on sale in Australia available with cameras instead of side mirrors is the latest generation Mercedes-Benz Actros truck.

It is the first road-registered vehicle in Australia with the technology and, if the early take-up of the approximately $3000 option is a guide, it won’t be long before “MirrorCam” becomes available on passenger cars.

Those who’ve tested the technology say the absence of the large vertical side mirrors improves front-three-quarter visibility, making it easier to spot cyclists and other traffic, particularly on the approach to intersections.

Furthermore, the ‘mirror’ is no longer covered in grime or obscured by dirty side windows because the large vertical display is mounted inside the cabin – in line with the roof pillar – and the housing of the camera lens has been aerodynamically designed to minimise debris.

Mercedes says the high mounting position of the camera arms “not only ensures excellent visibility, it also gets much less dirty in this position than the lower glass mirror” and the lenses have a “water-repellent coating”.

“The camera system is automatically heated when temperatures fall below 15 degrees Celsius, and the brightness can be adjusted separately for the driver and passenger sides,” the company says.

“At dusk and at night the cameras … continuously adjust to the changing light conditions. The same applies to areas with artificial lighting such as a tunnel,” says Mercedes.

The tiny lenses also double as security cameras when the truck is stopped, and the images can be viewed from the driver’s bunk at the press of a button, even in low light.

The digital side mirrors – which Mercedes has dubbed “MirrorCam” – have only been available in Australia for two months, but so far more than half of Actros truck buyers have opted for the technology.

Mercedes-Benz Australia would not provide an estimate on fuel savings, however data out of Germany claims “MirrorCam” can reduce fuel consumption by up to 1.5 per cent, which could add up to thousands of dollars in reduced costs during a year of long haul driving.

Mercedes says it is unclear if the same savings would apply to trucks in Australia given local fleets tend to run longer and heavier combinations, which could alter the effectiveness of aerodynamic changes.

The Mercedes Actros also has other fuel-saving measures, including smart navigation-based technology that best matches engine revs and gearbox modes to the prevailing conditions, as it monitors ascents and descents of a planned route.

Mercedes has been experimenting with cameras instead of side mirrors on concept cars dating as far back as 1996, with the F200 show car (pictured below), at the time designed as a preview to the S Class coupe.

However, rival German car maker Audi will likely be the first car maker to launch side mirror camera technology locally. The new Audi E-Tron electric vehicle will be available with digital side 'mirrors' as an option – the displays are in the upper front door panels – when it arrives in local showrooms in September 2020. The option price is $3500.

A number of car companies have already begun offering camera technology instead of the traditional rear vision mirror mounted in the middle of the windscreen.

The Toyota Hiace van and Chevrolet Camaro muscle car are two examples of vehicles available locally with camera technology instead of a traditional rear vision mirror mounted in the middle of the windscreen.

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