Every year at every auto show we see concept cars that envision replacing the rearview mirrors with digital cameras. They're usually the exterior mirrors and not the central one above the windshield, but whatever the case, and however much sense they seem to make, government regulations prevent them from being put into production. But Audi has found another use for the idea: its racing cars.

The latest R18 Le Mans prototype features, among other more considerable advancements, an AMOLED screen in the closed cockpit that's hooked up to a video camera, housed in carbon fiber and protruding ever so slightly from the tail fin. The system allows the drivers – who are put under enormous strain over the course of an endurance race – to clearly see the traffic coming up behind (or that they've just passed), which is apparently of great benefit considering that these mid-engined, closed-cockpit LMPs have no room for a rear window through which a conventional mirror would peer.

While they were at it, Audi moved the gear indicator, some warning lights and the tire slip gauge to the high-mounted central display. The side mirrors are still there on the outside, so the system doesn't eliminate that drag (for now), but it operates independent of the sight-limiting vibrations that can occur at the high speeds an LMP can reach, and of the weather conditions that can cause reduced visibility from spray in the wet.

Though it may take some time, if Audi wins on Sunday, it could end up selling this technology in its road cars on Monday.
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Audi factory drivers look into the future with a digital rear-view mirror

- Advanced AMOLED technology provides clear vision
- Significant contribution to active safety in the Audi R18
- Three more weeks to go before the start of the Le Mans 24 Hours

Ingolstadt, May 24, 2012 – When the Audi factory drivers tackle the Le Mans 24 Hours (June 16/17, 2012) a very special technology will enhance their vision. Used for the first time in a closed LMP sports prototype, the digital rear-view mirror provides a clear view of the rear and thus substantially improves active safety.

"The work of our drivers in the cockpit is truly heavy labor," says Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich in praise of his line-up of 13 sports car drivers. Aside from the physical and mental strain in endurance racing, life for the quick racers compared with their DTM colleagues is made more difficult by the special aspect of totally different vision. The extremely low, central seating position is just one reason for this. Another one is the fact that – unlike the Audi A5 DTM – none of the closed LMP sports cars have a rear window.

The concept and structure of the monocoque plus the configuration of the mid-engine in the Audi R18 leave no room for a rear window. "So, in the past, our drivers had to strictly rely on the outside mirrors when looking rearward," explains Dr. Ullrich. "Yet the rear end and the rear wings plus the vibrations that occur at high speeds significantly limit the field of vision of these mirrors." Audi has developed a solution, which thanks to advanced technology produces an amazing effect. The digital rear-view mirror that shows what is happening behind the car on an innovative AMOLED display is better than any conventional mirror.

A camera of very light weight and dimensions of just a few millimeters sits behind the antennas on the roof of the Audi R18. It captures the action at the rear on film and transmits the information to the cockpit as digitalized data. The racing situation behind the vehicle is shown on a screen that sits in the place where an inside mirror is typically located.

"This gives us a whole host of benefits," stresses Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. "The operation of the mirror is weather-neutral. By contrast, when using outside mirrors, heavy water spray severely impairs the driver's field of vision when it rains. For the new digital mirror, we worked out various day and night driving modes. Even when a rival approaches from the rear with high-beam headlights the image is superb and not just a glaring light spot."

This has only been made possible by the latest diode technology. Instead of conventional light-emitting diodes an active matrix OLED (AMOLED) display is used. Its name has been derived from organic semiconductors. Their major advantage: Like displays, AMOLED screens can show multi-colored images and offer better resolution thanks to particularly small pixels with diameters of merely around 0.1 millimeters. Outstanding image quality and short response time are further positive properties of AMOLEDs. "Therefore, even at 330 km/h we're achieving a totally fluid image flow in real-time transmission," says a pleased Dr. Ullrich. At this speed, the Audi R18 covers a distance of 92 meters within a single second. As these new types of screens are freely programmable, Audi uses them to display other data as well. Information on the gear that is currently engaged, the slip level of the tires, and specific warning lights have been integrated into the central instrument.

"I'm pleased to see that we've managed to make another contribution to active safety through this technology," emphasizes Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. "We've previously achieved major effects not only with basic concepts but also through detailed innovations. The introduction of a tire pressure warning system in the 2001 season in the Audi R8 is just one case in point. Our drivers came to highly value the digital rear-view mirror right on its premiere at Spa." At the second round of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) Audi achieved a one-two-three-four victory.

The digital mirror solution is yet another example of the close meshing of volume production and motorsport. "With respect to the screen and the programming we greatly benefited from the work of our colleagues at AUDI AG's Technical Development (TE)," says Dr. Ullrich. "They helped us move forward with components and knowledge." In the trial stage the racers even fully relied on an application that originated at the production side of the house. "The system was initially installed in an Audi R8 in which we sent Marcel Fässler and Marco Bonanomi out to test it in road traffic," recalls Dr. Ullrich. "Today, the system functions perfectly in the Audi R18 LMP race car. I'm sure that we'll be able to return valuable findings to our colleagues in TE. We integrated the system into the vehicle package in an extremely small space and reduced the aerodynamic effects of the camera and energy consumption to a minimum. The intensity of the demands in motorsport, such as at the Le Mans 24 Hours, will cause such a system to mature at an accelerated pace. If the digital rear-view mirror is introduced in production vehicles at a future time our consumers will yet again profit from a system that has been successfully tested in motorsport as well."


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  • 35 Comments
      Monty Totten
      • 2 Years Ago
      Corvette and Robertson Racing have been doing this for years in the ALMS. I'm sure there are more teams but those are ones I've personally witnessed.
      Ken
      • 2 Years Ago
      PLEASE don't throw this in cars just because "OMG IT'S TECHNOLOGY". If I am buying a standard car with good rearward visibility, please give me a real mirror. However, if there are real benefits and the quality EXCEEDS that of a conventional mirror, sign me up.
      CentralControl
      • 2 Years Ago
      I have a Lotus Exige with no back window at all - but federal law still makes them put on a rear view mirror that points at the intercooler. I'd love one of these in my car.
        SloopJohnB
        • 2 Years Ago
        @CentralControl
        The most irritating thing is getting pulled over for no right rear view outside mirror on my old Datsun 280Z that was loaded and blocking the center rear view mirror. Seems many states have laws against blocking the view from the center rear view mirror unless you have two outside rear view mirrors... I know of no car today that doesn't have two outside rear view mirrors if it has one.....perhaps mine was broken off and simply a plate put in, but I think it came that way from the factory...it looked stock on the outside right door.
          bhtooefr
          • 2 Years Ago
          @SloopJohnB
          Passenger rear view mirrors were still optional on many cars through the 90s.
      BRKF06
      • 2 Years Ago
      What doesn't work about these...moving your head left to right by a few degrees will not give you any extra insight into what's behind you.
      tjon901
      • 2 Years Ago
      Corvette racing has run these for years as their back window is blocked off
        Soichiro
        • 2 Years Ago
        @tjon901
        It's a good idea - even more so for a slower (relative term) GT class car like the Corvette. I'm surprised the tech has taken this long to make its way up to the big boys.
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Soichiro
          [blocked]
        Curb
        • 2 Years Ago
        @tjon901
        most ALMS cars have run these for a while.
      mbukukanyau
      • 2 Years Ago
      ALMS Corvettes have been using that for a while now, since last year actually
        LW
        • 2 Years Ago
        @mbukukanyau
        camera on the bumper gives you an unrealistic perspective of what's behind you. You need one that is much closer to where one's eyes originates.
      Gorgenapper
      • 2 Years Ago
      and however much sense they seem to make --- Camera systems can fail, then you're left with a blank LCD screen instead of a mirror.
        desinerd1
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Gorgenapper
        I would be really worried if BMW did it.
        LEDfoot
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Gorgenapper
        Well if you paid any attention at all... Currently, these race cars have only the manual outside mirrors, they will still be there. Inside, they have no mirror at all since there is no rear window to look through. So should the camera fail, they are no worse off than they have been all the time driving these cars.
      Rolando
      • 2 Years Ago
      They could just close the whole cockpit and have a projection inside the cockpit of the surroundings taken by cameras around the car
      Monty Totten
      • 2 Years Ago
      http://cdn.memegenerator.net/instances/400x/12329784.jpg
      David Lloyd
      • 2 Years Ago
      Reinvent the reaview mirror? My $17k Kia Soul has a rear view camera located by the license plate! Me thinks autoblog is hanging out too much with Audi!
        erzhik
        • 2 Years Ago
        @David Lloyd
        There is a big difference between a rear view camera used for backing up and rear view camera acting as a mirror.
        UnBlogdeAutos
        • 2 Years Ago
        @David Lloyd
        That rear view camera is not replacing the rear view mirror. And I bet your $17k doesn't have an OLED display.
      NamorF-Pro
      • 2 Years Ago
      They must be crazy trusting German tech, cuz it could just black out and then you're screwed.... I think reinventing the wheel will make more sense.
      Barry Enkenya
      • 2 Years Ago
      one more expensive electronic part to fail
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