The camera-in-car seems like a relatively recent innovation for the automobile, but its history goes back to the mid-20th century. The first backup camera was in the 1956 Buick Centurion, a concept vehicle that had a rear-mounted television camera, believe it or not. But the camera became commonplace only in this millennium, first with luxury cars, of course, but now nearly every rental you pick up at the airport has one included. But the back-up cam is only the beginning. For the driving enthusiast, there’s the dash-mounted camera, ideal for capturing whatever comes across your path on the streets and posting it to YouTube. And even though self-driving cars aren’t totally here yet, many automakers offer pedestrian detection cameras that face forward (sometimes mounted in front of the rear-view camera) that are linked with a computer to automatically hit the brakes when you don’t.
As cameras have become commonplace thanks to falling technology prices, they’ve found a multitude of uses in the car. Here are 11 types of cameras that every car will have. Some are around now; others are just over the horizon.
11. Dash Cam
These little gadgets have caught on incredibly quickly as people realize their potential for settling disputes in insurance cases. Early versions were found in police cars dating back to the 1980s, but with plummeting prices in camera components, coupled with an abundance of available storage, the devices have reached the realm of affordability; they start at $50 and go up to about $150.
10. In-Car Selfie Cam
Ready to take a snap of yourself when you get in the car? The Chrysler Portal minivan, demonstrated at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show
“This vehicle is geared to the millennial demographic who in the next 10+ years will be seeking their own version of a family transportation vehicle,” a Chrysler spokesperson tells Inverse. “Millennials are seeking practical and functional products that provide both capability and a sense of personal style. They also need affordability and look to owning vehicles long-term; as a result, they want a vehicle that they can upgrade as their life changes.”
9. Security Cameras
Some cameras available today look like dash cams, but they come equipped with longer battery life and features like night vision. These make them essential for security purposes, ensuring that if the worst comes to the worst, you can provide footage to the authorities of any break-ins. Some, like the BlackVue DR650S-2CH, offer wifi and GPS connectivity to enable easier access and better data management.
8. Passenger Monitoring
A passenger-facing camera doesn’t necessarily need to be used for selfies, or recording the scene when the family has stepped away. Maintaining a video recording of the occupants can be a fun way of documenting a family trip, or recording your own version of Carpool Karaoke. In a worst-case scenario, it can be used for analyzing what happened in the event of a crash.
7. Lane Assist
An early form of autonomy, lane assist systems can keep a car on the road and ensure it avoids swerving too far out of the lane. These have been present on shipping vehicles since 2002, but a 2016 study published in Traffic Injury Prevention found that these systems are starting to show their age: most accidental lane departures occur when the user is incapacitated, meaning autonomous driving will probably help more here.
6. Pedestrian Detection
Automakers like Ford and Honda include systems that work similarly to semi-autonomous driving systems, but they’re limited to braking when they detect a pedestrian in front of the car. Having a technological safety net to react alongside the human could save critical stopping time, with the potential to save lives.
5. The Backup Camera
This is what that Buick Centurion had. Looking through a rear-view mirror can work sometimes, but offers a limited view of surroundings. Small objects or children are easily missed, a dirty rear window can obstruct vision, and vans are out of luck entirely. A reversing camera solves all of these problems, offering a simple way of observing your surroundings as you move backwards.
4. Top-View/Above-View/Replacement for Sideview Mirrors
Cars like the BMW i8 and Chrysler Portal concept do away with side mirrors entirely, instead using cameras to feed a live video into the vehicle. This serves several benefits. If the window is dirty, the user can still see a clear image. There’s a smaller object sticking out of the sides of the vehicle, making it easier to avoid obstacles. The video feed also enables more ambitious uses in the future, like…
3. Top-View/Above-View/360 Camera System
Some systems, like the Chrysler Portal and BMW i8 concept, can stitch together multiple input feeds to recreate how a vehicle looks from above. Displayed on a central console screen, the feature provides an unparalleled way of understanding the vehicle’s current position when parking.
“At a minimum, cameras are required for the front, rear, and sides of the vehicle for a full 360-view,” a Chrysler spokesperson tells Inverse.
2. Semi-Autonomous Driving
Some self-driving systems use cameras to see the road and send the information off to a computer, which steers the car accordingly. This is not fully autonomous driving, though. In technical terms, this ranks as level 2 on the SAE scale. The driver needs to stay aware, as the car will essentially follow the road without intervention.
1. Full Autonomy
Eventually, you’ll probably want to go the whole hog and upgrade to a fully autonomous car.
In many autonomous systems under development, cameras are used in combination with radar, lidar, or ultrasonic sensors. AutoX, a California-based startup, has developed a system that runs entirely on cameras. Whatever the resultant system, it seems cameras are the autonomous future.