Hey Smart Lookin': We Sample Nissan's "Smart" Rearview Mirror Technology
At this year's New York auto show, Nissan showed off an interesting piece of rearview-mirror technology that no one in our office paid any attention to - mostly because the brand's flashy 2015 Murano debuted at the same time. Dubbed the Smart Rearview Camera, the tech consists of a rearview mirror that can be toggled between a regular mirror and a display showing a feed from a rear-facing camera. Thanks to Nissan bringing a Rogue outfitted with a prototype Smart Rearview Camera to our office, we've now sampled the feature for ourselves.
The technology behind the Smart mirror is similar to the backup-camera displays Nissan has embedded in rearview mirrors for years - other manufacturers like Ram have done this, too - except in this case the entire mirror surface is also a display. If you're thinking this is simply a backup camera, slow your roll - it is a full digital replacement for the rearview mirror, designed to be used while on the move. At the flick of the day/night lever, the system switches the rearview mirror to Smart Rearview Camera mode.
The video feed from the rear comes from a small camera - separate from the backup camera - mounted behind the Rogue's rear hatch glass, just beneath the center high-mounted brake light. This way, the camera's view out of the back can be cleared in inclement weather or dusty conditions by using the wiper and defroster. The camera enables drivers to see what's behind them even if the cargo hold is full to bursting or if the rear-seat passengers have big heads. As a bonus, the camera improves on the regular rearview mirror's visible angle by 30 percent.
Driving around with the system switched on, we were able to see more or less everything we could see with the regular mirror, albeit with more blind-spot coverage. The view can be adjusted for height and zoom, but even set as low as possible, the camera seems focused too high; for example, when stopped in traffic, most of the car immediately behind you isn't visible. Now, it's the same when using the regular mirror, but we were left wanting more out of the camera. We were told the camera's limited vertical view is a constraint dictated by the mirror’s size—if they made the unit taller, it would block more of the windshield and seem bulky.
Another downside is depth perception; because of the nature of the camera's lens, it's tough to get a sense of depth when using the Smart Rearview Mirror. The camera almost requires the disclaimer: "objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear—but only those in the center of the mirror." Also, when using the regular mirror, the driver's view aft is bracketed by the back window, which helps place the car relative to other cars and objects behind you. The camera lacks this frame, and it lends the Smart Rearview Mirror's view of the world a disconnected feeling. We're sure that, with time, a driver would get used to it - and Nissan's people assured us this is the case - but just jumping in and trying it out for the first time, we weren't confident enough to pull off truly heroic lane changes or use it for backing up.
Which brings us to the Smart Rearview Mirror-vs.-backup-camera debate. Instinctively, every time we put the prototype Rogue in reverse, we'd look to the center mirror, when in fact the lower and more useful backup camera sends its feed to the dashboard display. This was a bit confusing, especially given the display also shows the four-camera Around View bird's-eye account of things. It would be nice if the Smart Mirror switched to regular mode—to bring back that good old-fashioned depth perception - and left only the more useful (due to its lower height and bumper proximity) backup camera to show what’s going on behind you.
All of this should be worked out in due time, however. In the U.S., the Smart Rearview Mirror is still in the development stage. It's already on sale in Japan, and really, this same tech has been around for a while - many box trucks and other commercial vehicles have utilized a camera feed from the rear to give drivers a rearview-mirror-like glimpse at what's behind them. But those efforts weren't so seamlessly packaged into a mirror-like unit that folks are already familiar with. When will we see the Smart Rearview Mirror go on sale in the U.S.? Nissan says we'll get it within two years.