Contributor’s Note: "It exists!" is a series that occasionally spotlights innovative ideas and solutions for some of the most common problems in our everyday lives.
The use of rear of mirrors are often credited for having prevented countless potential car accidents. Yet there can be a tendency for drivers to rely on them too much, which ironically has even led to quite a few collisions.
The crux of the problem is that while driver side rear view mirrors gives drivers an accurate sense of the distance of cars behind them, the field of view is very narrow. Alternatives like wide angle mirrors help, but tend to make vehicles appear tiny and distant. That's why drivers are advised, before switching lanes, to glance over their shoulder to check their "blind spot," a region of space behind the car that drivers can't see when just using either the side or rear-view mirror. But now, at long last, a solid solution is within sight.
Andrew Hicks, a math professor at Drexel University, has figured out a way to eliminate blind spots by designing a mirror that's slightly curved to give the driver a wider 45-degree field of vision, instead of the 15 to 17 degrees of view in a standard flat version. Typically, bending a mirror even slightly causes objects to appear distorted, but Hicks makes this a non-issue by basing the design on a mathematical algorithm that precisely controls the angle of light bouncing off of the curving mirror.
“Imagine that the mirror’s surface is made of many smaller mirrors turned to different angles, like a disco ball,” he explains. “The algorithm is a set of calculations to manipulate the direction of each face of the metaphorical disco ball so that each ray of light bouncing off the mirror shows the driver a wide, but not-too-distorted, picture of the scene behind him.”
If his metaphor seems a bit, um, unclear, here's the gist of it: On the mirror's surface, there are tens of thousands of finely-tuned adjustments that, although invisible to the naked eye, help to reflect light in a manner in which objects appear as they should from the driver's perspective. The result is a mirror that has a smooth, yet nonuniform curve.
The major hurdle that will likely keep Hick's invention from becoming standard in future vehicles is a government regulation that requires mirrors on the driver's side to be flat. Curved mirrors are allowed for passenger-side mirrors, but only if they include the phrase “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.” However, outside of the U.S., some countries in Europe and Asia do allow slightly curved mirrors on new cars.
The good news is that Hicks has received a U.S. patent as well interest from investors and manufacturers who may pursue opportunities to license and produce the mirror. If things work out, his blind-spot free mirror may be available as an after-market replacement option.
When that happens (if it does), I'd say definitely look into it.
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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com