2 'boring' police vehicle breakthroughs that could save your life

Some of the most innovative designs in auto engineering are in the mundane features we don’t typically think about

Our cars come with more and better technology every model year, but most of it seems to be focused on the vehicle’s electronics and convenience features. But some new products are bringing exciting changes to more mundane features of the cars, like rear-view mirrors. 

There hasn’t been much innovation in the side mirrors of cars, other than to heat and motorize them, and maybe to embed turn signals into them. In terms of their original purpose — to see what is behind and to your left and right rear — they’re pretty much the same as they have always been. 

Two new side view mirror features— one addressing the driver’s side, the other the right-side mirror — may soon be incorporated into police vehicles, and at least one has significant officer safety implications. 

A standard left side mirror is at the top of the photo, with the Hicks design at the bottom.
A standard left side mirror is at the top of the photo, with the Hicks design at the bottom. (Photo Drexel University)

Ford’s ‘Ambush Protection’
Police administrators generally like their cops to work out of their cars, completing reports and other paperwork in the field whenever possible. A hazard associated with this is when the officer loses situational awareness with the environment while focusing on the in-car computer or other tasks. People can walk up to the car unexpectedly, which can be both unnerving and dangerous. 

Ford recently announced an option where a sensor will sound a chime, lock the doors and roll up the windows if it detects someone approaching the motionless car from the rear. If the car is equipped with a rear-facing backup camera, the camera will activate if someone approaching is detected. The system was developed through InterMotive of Auburn (Calif.). 

As a stand-alone product, InterMotive sells “Surveillance Mode” for $248.33, but it’s only $75 when bundled with the “Police Interface Module.”

This system deactivates the interior, dome, and parking lights with a single command, lowers the volume on the broadcast radio when a call comes over the police radio, allows the driver to control the status of the daytime running lights, increases alternator output if battery voltage is low when idling, deactivates the seat belt, key in ignition and headlamp chime, and permits custom programming of the AUX or volume/seek buttons on the steering wheel. 

Better Driver’s Side Views 
The right side mirror on U.S. cars is often fitted with a convex glass that permits the driver to see a greater angle of view. These mirrors distort size and distance, which is why they are required to have an “OBJECTS IN MIRROR MAY BE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR” disclaimer etched into them. 

Mirrors on the driver’s side have to be flat, which limits the driver’s view to 15 to 17 degrees. 

A new design by Dr. Andrew Hicks at Drexel University uses a mirror that is composed of a single piece of glass, but has a slight non-continuous curve that provides the driver with a view of about 45 degrees with very little distortion. 

The effect is produced by changing the surface of the mirror so that it reflects like a mirrored disco ball, giving the driver a wide but relatively undistorted view of what’s behind them. The design of the mirror required tens of thousands of complex calculations. 

Another approach to the redesign of side mirrors comes from engineering professors at Hanbal National University in South Korea and Portland (Ore.) State University, where doctors have developed a mirror grinding technique similar to that used to produce “no line bifocal” eyeglasses. 

The two focal lengths – up close and in the distance – are continuous, so that distant objects are viewed at the outer edge of the mirror and are seen by the inner portion as the object grows closer. The result is that there is no blind spot. When the object in the mirror disappears from its outer edge, the object is in the driver’s peripheral vision to the left. There is some distortion of the images, but the distortions don’t affect the appearance of the objects being closer or farther away than they actually are. 

Current DOT regulations forbid the installation of anything but flat mirrors on the driver’s side of cars, but these may be sold as an aftermarket accessory until and unless the regulations change. 

We shall see in time if this technology makes it into the squad car of the future.

Lee, H., Kim, D., Yi, S. Horizontally progressive mirror for blind spot detection in automobiles. Optics Letters, Vol. 38, Issue 3, pp. 317-319 (2013). 

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