I see you

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When you look at the current designs for vehicles, one of the developing features is the presence of an increasing number of cameras. Let’s start with the highest profile change. As from 2018, the law will mandate every vehicle sold in the US to have a rear camera. There have been too many stories about caring parents running over their children as they back out of the garage for this simple change not to be made. As it stands, there’s a big blind spot behind vehicles and with children being nearer the ground, they are particularly difficult to see. While we wait for this law to be implemented, the camera makers around the world are getting ready for what they see as a boom time for their product.

Yes, these manufacturers are predicting a market in excess of $6 billion in 2018. Why is this? The answer comes from two quite different pressures. First the motor manufacturers are beginning to see safety design as depending on the camera. The self-driving cars being showcased by Google have cameras bursting out of every seam. If you go to the high-end vehicles, they are all now carrying cameras to help parallel parking or to position the vehicle in the lane while in motion. When designers carry out their threat to replace side mirrors with cameras, drivers will have 360 degree vision courtesy of a display showing all these images. This is going to be a mixed blessing. There’s a world of difference between drivers glancing in the mirrors when about to change lanes or make a turn, but it takes a lot more concentration to understand a screen displaying images from all round the vehicle.

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So far, this potential for distracting the driver is considered less important than reducing the number of accidents. This is great news for the camera makers who had been projecting a slowdown in demand as sales of smartphones stabilizes and, in some countries, begins to fall. There has been work necessary, of course. Because of the dirt, water, vibration, knocks, and sometimes high temperatures, cameras for vehicles have to be more robust than for phones. At present, this makes each camera more expensive but, as volume rises, we can expect the unit price to fall. Now here comes the kicker. We’re used to thinking America is always at the cutting edge of new technology but, in this case, most of the major manufacturers are Korean. For example, LG Innotek currently supplies the cameras used in the iPhone and is due to begin shipping cameras to BMW. Of course, more than the camera is required. The complete package includes lenses, image sensors, and hardwired software. This is yet another example of America allowing a market to slip from its grasp. Just think how much profit could have been made from America supplying the world’s automotive manufacturers with cameras. As it is, we’re going to have to import every single camera we fit into our vehicles. Yes, American manufactured vehicles will no doubt be safer, but what a loss.

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