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By Bradley Berman
The smartphone revolution has relatively little to do with using your mobile device as a phone. Arguably, the killer app of mobile computing is the camera: the ability to take and share photography. Now that cars are increasingly becoming computers on wheels, there is mounting evidence that cameras will be essential vehicular hardware.
Are we far off from choosing a car based on focal length and resolution — as well as horsepower and transmissions? Will car selfies become more important than self-driving?
Source: Facebook user GoPro
I started asking myself these question after seeing last week's announcement that Mini Cooper will allow drivers to use the car's joystick to shoot videos and take photos with a GoPro camera. Of course, you could always use a GoPro in the car, but now everybody's favorite tiny action camera is controllable within the Mini's native operating system (if the car is properly equipped). BMW, the maker of Mini Cooper cars, said that putting camera functions directly on the high-resolution color dashboard display and operating them from the joystick will enable drivers to concentrate more on the road.
Meanwhile, a 26-year-old Missouri woman was killed in a car crash, moments after snapping a selfie (the last photo of her alive). She was traveling to her bachelorette party. In May, the UK's Daily Mail reported that two girls crashed while recording a video clip of their in-car karaoke sessions, zooming down the road with hands off the wheel. The pair was taken to the hospital for treatment, where they uploaded the video of the crash. It went viral on social media — so they uploaded more images of their bruised faces and bodies.
Is it just those crazy digital kids living life on the edge with car selfies? Nope. Two octogenarian drivers last week took an assisted selfie after flipping their blue Honda on its side in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Bel Air. It's a great shot, because the snap shows the wife posing while still trapped in the car. The selfie, in this case, wasn't the cause of the accident — but nonetheless the boundaries between cars, cameras, safety, mobile self-portraits, and social media are becoming blurred. The Mini announcement is not likely to be the last connected car-plus-GoPro mashup.
Good Looking Out
Car-based cameras aren't just good ol' dangerous fun. In fact, automakers are utilizing them primarily to enhance safety. As we reported a couple months ago, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) ruled on March 31 that all new cars must be equipped with back-up cameras by May 2018. The use of inexpensive back-up cameras — often about $50 — are a small price to prevent the 15,000 or so injuries that happen every year, when drivers don't see people (usually small children) in the rear-view mirror.
Source: Mini USA
In another example, last summer in Germany, when I was driving the sporty diesel-powered Volkswagen Golf GTD on the Autobahn, I didn't have to think about which sections had speed restrictions. The car's camera aimed at the roadside and, aided by recognition software, detected speed limit signs and displayed the legal top speed on the dash (in front of the steering wheel). It was effective. Your future car may also have a camera aimed at your head — with face detection determining if your head is up, and your eyes are open and looking at the road. If your head drops, you'll get a warning or perhaps the brakes will be automatically applied.
Source: Mini USA
Cameras are already ubiquitous on roadsides and intersections, aimed at cars breaking through red lights for robo-ticketing. Cameras and image recognition are also essential to self-driving automobiles — along with radar, sonar, and Lidar. And I suspect that side-view mirrors will go the way of the dinosaur. Those side appendages are bad for aerodynamics and prone to getting snapped off by careless drivers — not only the ones trying to get the perfect mobile selfie.
If you want a glimpse of the car-camera future, visit Russia. Apparently, car crashes are so prevalent — and police corruption so widespread — that nearly every driver needs to keep a dash cam running — just in case there's an accident and verifiable evidence is required. YouTube is filled with dash cam-recorded crashes, trucks tipping over, and roadside brawls, not only from Russian citizens. That's not just a Russian phenomenon. US law enforcement officers also commonly use dash cams.
You can become part of the car camera craze, even if you don't have a Mini. In March, Wirecutter did a rundown of the top half-dozen dash cams. The reviewer's top pick was the G1W, capable of capturing 1080p video at 30 frames per second and available on Amazon for about $40.
I doubt George Orwell, as prophetic as he was, anticipated that Big Brother would be the hipster in his Mini at the stoplight, aiming his GoPro at you.
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