Car Technology

What is a Surround View Camera System?

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2 min read

Camera systems are reasonably common in many new cars, they are usually used as an aid to reversing. They are often marketed as a safety device to show the driver any blindspots. When you first drive a car fitted with a reversing camera they can take a while to get used to, but when you do you’ll wonder how you ever did without it.

The majority of reversing cameras are mounted on the outside of the car, often near the number plate. They usually use a ‘fish-eye’ lens so you can get a slightly distorted view, but this means that you can see more of the road behind the car, so it’s a good thing.

As popularity increased for these systems, manufacturers started designing new systems, and many now offer what is known as 360-degree, or surround view, camera systems. These allow the driver to see what is happening around their vehicle, from any angle!

Where Did the Idea For Rear View Camera Come From?

In 1956 a Chuck Jordan designed a car that used a camera system very similar to how television of the time worked. It was a concept car that was made to showcase what a ‘car of the future’ may look like. The rudimentary system worked by having a camera bolted into the boot and a television monitor in the dash, which is very similar to what we see today. Unfortunately, the power required and the size of the unit made it impossible to install in the cars of the day.

It wasn’t until 1991 that the first car with a reversing camera hit the market, as finally, the technology had become small enough that it was suitable for mass market appeal.

Most reversing systems work very similarly to Jordan’s initial design, a camera in the boot and a screen in the dash, with the two being connected by a physical wire - although there are some newer cars that have started trialling WiFi for connections.

How Exactly Do Surround-View Camera Systems Work?

The first surround camera system was released in the Nissan Infiniti EX35 SUV, it was first introduced to the Japanese market in 2007 and then offered for worldwide importation and sale.

The system consisted of three rear facing cameras, one in forward facing in the grill and one each on the side mirrors. As the cameras use wide angle lenses (about 180 degrees) they actually overlap each other and can form a complete 360 degree view of the outside of the car. The ‘brains’ of the system can take these images and form them into one complete image that is shown to the driver.

On some systems, the viewpoint can be switched to a top down point of view. This is achieved by the onboard computer manipulating the image and placing a representation of the vehicle in the middle of the screen. While it is not a true image, the footage is good enough to give an excellent view of any objects that may interfere with the operation of the vehicle.

What Improvements Can Be Made on Automotive Camera Systems?

Car companies are at a constant need to have the next big thinking and there are several technologies in development. There are a variety of ways that the video feed can be displayed to the drivers, and there is good research into what suits best. We will most likely see video imposed onto the windscreen, similar to the picture in picture (PNP) that currently exists on many television screens.

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