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New Driver’s Side Mirror Eliminates Blind Spots

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Hicks mirror comparison

A side-by-side comparison of a standard flat driver's side mirror with the mirror Hicks designed. With minimal distortion, Hicks' mirror shows a much wider field of view (the wide area to the left of the silver car seen in the distance, behind the tree, in this image).

A Drexel University math professor has received a patent for a driver’s side mirror that eliminates the blind spots that sometimes lead to car accidents, while at the same time minimizing distortion. Dr. R. Andrew Hicks designed the mirror “using a mathematical algorithm that precisely controls the angle of light bouncing off of the curving mirror,” according to a Drexel press release.

As the press release says, traditional flat driver’s side mirrors give drivers an accurate sense of the distance of cars behind them, but have a very narrow field of view, thus the blind spot.

“It’s not hard to make a curved mirror that gives a wider field of view — no blind spot — but at the cost of visual distortion and making objects appear smaller and farther away,” the press release states. However, in Hicks’ mirror, the visual distortions of shapes and straight lines are barely detectable.

In the Drexel statement, Hicks explains how his mirror works:

‘Imagine that the mirror’s surface is made of many smaller mirrors turned to different angles, like a disco ball,’ Hicks said. ‘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.’

Hicks noted that, in reality, the mirror does not look like a disco ball up close. There are tens of thousands of such calculations to produce a mirror that has a smooth, nonuniform curve.

Drexel Professor R. Andrew Hicks, Ph.D.

Drexel Professor R. Andrew Hicks, Ph.D.

Hicks told Fox News that the mirror is based on research that started when he was developing optics for soccer-playing robots. The mirror is potentially an inexpensive alternative to the electronic blind-spot warning systems that car makers have introduced in recent years, Fox News notes.

Although Hicks has talked with several automakers about using the mirrors on their cars, as Fox News writes, there is a large hurdle: Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 111 (FMVSS). A rule that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration established in 1967, FMVSS requires that driver’s side mirrors have to be “perfectly flat with 1:1 reflection, while the allowable curvature of the passenger side mirror is strictly defined,” Fox News writes, and points out that unless the regulation is rewritten, Hicks’ mirror would not be able to be added as a standard feature to cars.

There is one driver’s side mirror that gets around the problem, as Scott Burgess writes for autoblog:

Ford has one solution for federal regulations with its blind spot mirror, which is [a] regular mirror that includes a convex spotter mirror in the upper left-hand corner.

But judging by photos, Hicks’ mirror offers a much cleaner and less distorted view. It can be sold as an aftermarket accessory, and Hicks has had some interest from manufacturers in producing it.

And beyond driver’s side mirrors, Fox News writes that there are other uses for Hicks’ invention. Hicks told them that his technology could one day become part of space telescopes that rely on mirrors to provide a wide field of view.

Image of Hicks’ mirror by Drexel NOW, used under Fair Use: Reporting.
Image of Dr. Hicks by Drexel University Department of Mathematics, used under Fair Use: Reporting.


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