TORONTO, Ont. — From the driver’s perspective, the MirrorEye system is simple enough, but there’s a lot going on in the background of this technology designed to replace traditional mirrors.
There are two camera wings mounted near the roofline above the A-pillar in the case of the Peterbilt 579 I drove in this test drive. Each system configuration is tailored to specific tractor makes and models to optimize the view, so exact placements can vary slightly. Each pod contains a narrow- and a wide-angle digital camera, respectively pointed rearward and roughly downward. The driver can swing the pod aside manually if there’s an external threat to its longevity, and the arm is designed to break away forward or backward if struck.
The cameras and lenses are matched to the rest of the electronics, so they can’t be replaced by an off-the-shelf camera from Amazon.
In the cab, drivers see a 13.4 x 5.9-inch (12.3-inch diagonal) monitor on the left-hand A-pillar. The right-hand monitor is the same, but Stoneridge is evaluating an optional 15-inch (diagonal) monitor for the right-hand side.
Stephen Fox, Stoneridge’s vice-president of business development, says the larger monitor provides the same view as the 12.3-inch monitor, but the image is larger and therefore easier to see. “Some drivers say the perspective on the larger monitor is somewhat unnatural compared to a standard side mirror. Some like it, some don’t. It’s a personal preference,” he says.
The monitors are segmented into what we’d traditionally call the flat mirror and the convex mirror, the lower portion being the wide-angle field of view, like a convex mirror.
There’s small control panel on the dashboard that allows drivers to pan the field of view slightly right or left for either monitor and to adjust the relative brightness of the image seen in the monitors. There’s also a switch that retracts the camera pod.
Because the cameras are digital, the images they produce can be enhanced for better visibility. Colors can be toned up or down, the image can be sharpened, contrast adjusted, and a constant brightness can be maintained regardless of the ambient light — when driving through an underpass, for example.
“We are trying to provide more accurate colors and avoid a ‘washed out’ image,” says Fox. “Our eyes can quickly discern color, and this can aid in faster decision times.”
At night, the system switches to an infrared view rather than the traditional optical view, which is a striking difference.
Human eyes literally cannot see IR light because it lies just beyond what is classified as the “visible” spectrum. The image in the monitor is predominantly shades of gray with pinkish, greenish or mauveish tinge. It’s not like a black and white image at all. An actual pure IR image would appear as shades of pink, so MirrorEye’s algorithms render the image as tones of black, gray and white. Since IR doesn’t see light in the traditional sense, there’s no glare from headlights. In the monitors, headlights appear like white circle or squares, depending on the shape of the headlight. Red-colored taillights appear grey rather than red, and yellow marker lamps show up as slightly brighter white dots.
If all that sounds rather unnatural, it is, but I got used to it surprisingly fast. I’d call the night vision the best part of the MirrorEye system.
While I did not experience it on this test drive, Stoneridge tells me that all four cameras and the associated images in the monitors are managed separately by the electronics, so a failure of one portion of the system will not affect the others, short of a complete power loss. If one does fail, I’m told the monitor screen will default to blue (picture a computer’s so-called “blue screen of death”). Drivers will never see a frozen image of the last moment the screen was functioning.
It’s all tied into the truck’s CAN bus, too, so in the future signals could be fed into a collision warning system that would alert drivers to potential conflicts.
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