You may have noticed the lack of mirrors on the Atlis Motor Vehicles XT pickup truck. Of course, you did, it was often the first comment we received on the early concept images of the truck. Most people have also surmised that the smaller pods are digital side-view mirrors. Why digital mirrors? Well, there are many benefits, some obvious, and some not-so-obvious.
Aerodynamics is the easy one. A small pod for a camera blocks less air than a large mirror, and also allows for much smoother air flow in the whole area. This results in an increase in overall aerodynamic efficiency, less energy usage, and therefore greater range. The smooth airflow also generates less noise for a quieter ride.
Another benefit is that the “mirror” itself can be placed in more ideal positions along the side of the vehicle, and even multiple cameras can be used. We are not dependent on the angle from the driver's eyes to the mirror to the road and aren't restricted to a specific plane. This means the mirror can have a better view of traffic and can reduce or eliminate blind spots. The camera also doesn't have to be adjusted from driver to driver, because it is not based on the driver's sight line - so the mirror is never out of adjustment. You will never mess up somebody else's mirror settings - one less thing to worry about when sharing vehicles.
Through the use of software, the picture from the camera can be adjusted to zoom or pan in certain situations, such as when parking to give a better view of the ground. The image can also be adjusted to provide a slight boost in brightness or darkened using the cameras HDR (High Dynamic Range) features at night making objects more visible than if you had a traditional mirror. Individual objects may be able to be identified and digitally outlined to call the driver's attention to them.
Inside the vehicle, we can place the display of the mirrors in a more convenient location. The driver won't have to turn their head as much to get a full picture of what's behind them, and won't have to move around to see different areas that are traditionally out of view. Overall it can lead to less distraction and more time with the driver's eyes on the road, making everybody safer.
Are there any drawbacks? Possibly. First and foremost there is an adjustment period for drivers who are used to traditional mirrors. There will be a slight learning curve to get used to the new perspective and where to look for the displays. The cameras, being smaller in surface area than the mirrors, are also slightly more subject to obstruction by dirt and water. But these items do affect mirrors as well, and occasional cleaning of the camera lens may be required - similar to what you may already do with your backup camera. Failure modes will also need to be accounted for - being an electronic device instead of a purely optical one. We need to make sure the system is extremely reliable, so it doesn't unexpectedly go out while on the road. Lastly, the screens take up some real estate on the dashboard and need to be visible for drivers of all shapes and sizes as well as operating under all lighting conditions without obstructing your view.
In the end, the benefits result in a safer, more convenient, and more efficient vehicle. Unfortunately, the current laws in the United States do not yet allow this technology. In 2014, Tesla Motors and the Auto Alliance began lobbying the NHTSA to allow for digital mirrors in place of optical side mirrors, for the benefits described here. While the laws in the US haven't caught up to technology yet (in some parts of the world these are allowed), we're still planning for the future. When production time comes, if the laws still do not allow digital mirrors, we will of course resort to “Plan B” and put optical mirrors on the XT pickup.