For years, automakers have teased us with sleek concept cars that ditch conventional side mirrors in favor of digital cameras. Now, Lexus becomes the first automaker to bring the technology to showrooms, albeit only in Japan for now: The all-new ES 350 sedan will beat the Audi E-tron’s “virtual mirrors” to market by mere months.
Lexus calls theirs the Digital Side-View Monitor: a pair of slender exterior stalks housing digital cameras that beam a high-definition view to 5.0-inch LCD screens mounted on either side of the cabin. The main benefit is to save fuel by reducing the aerodynamic drag of chunky conventional mirrors and damping the wind noise that’s been a longtime challenge for car designers. Lexus says the cameras and interior monitors deliver better visibility in foul weather, with the lenses heated and tucked into housings to ward off raindrops, ice, or snow. Drivers can adjust screen perspectives, or the camera can automatically adjust— zooming in when drivers hit their turn signals, or highlighting and alerting to cars that loom in blind spots.
Now, if only American motorists could get a peek. Though regulators in Japan and Europe have already approved the digital cameras, U.S. regulations prohibit them.