A backup camera (also called a reversing camera or rear view camera) is a special type of video camera that is attached to the rear of a vehicle to alleviate the rear blind spot and avoid a backup collision. The area directly behind vehicles has been described as a "killing zone" due to associated accidents. Backup cameras are usually connected to the vehicle’s head unit display.
The first backup camera was used in the 1956 Buick Centurion concept car, presented in January 1956, at the General Motors Motorama. The vehicle had a rear-mounted television camera that sent images to a TV screen in the dashboard in place of the rear-view mirror. Later the 1972, the Volvo Experimental Safety Car (VESC) had a backup camera. However, the camera element did not make it into the following Volvo 240 model.
The first actual production car to incorporate a backup camera was the 1991 Toyota Soarer Limited (UZZ31 and UZZ32), which was only available in Japan and not on its U.S. counterpart, the Lexus SC.
As of May 2018, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration mandated that all new passenger cars, trucks, vans and other vehicles weighing less than 10,000 pounds be equipped with rear view monitoring technology. And, in most cases, that means rear-mounted video cameras.
Clearly, the most obvious benefit of a rear-facing camera is that it helps avert injury-causing and potentially fatal back over accidents by expanding your field of vision, particularly below the rear window or trunk level. Cameras also increase your ability to see beyond the width of a mirror's image, helping to eliminate blind spots. But in addition to helping protect people and property behind a vehicle, cameras have a number of other benefits as well.
For example, backup cameras can help you park more quickly and safely. Rear-facing cameras give the driver a much clearer and more accurate view of obstacles behind the car. They feature on-screen guidelines: two parallel lines that help direct you into or out of parking spaces more easily. Some also feature a middle line that can help you keep the vehicle centered in the space. Modern color displays allow the system to change the color of the guidelines from green to yellow to red as you get closer to an obstruction. And that, combined with an audible warning from rear-facing sensors, can be very useful in preventing back over accidents.
How They Work
On the face of it, the idea is simple: When you put your car into reverse gear, a camera mounted at the rear of the vehicle turns on and sends an image to a monitor to show what's behind you. But the reality is a bit more complicated. Backup camera systems, even at their most basic, are fairly sophisticated pieces of technology, and they're getting more high-tech all the time.
The complexity begins with the image that is captured by the camera. Rather than transmitting the picture that a typical camera might see, backup camera systems are actually designed to send a mirror image to the monitor so the orientation is correct when you look at it. If you were looking at a direct feed of what the camera sees, the image would be reversed, and you'd steer left when you wanted to go right. The system is designed to correct this so the view on the display makes sense.
Manufacturers generally install backup cameras in the vehicle's rear trim pieces. They're fairly unobtrusive, so they can be a bit hard to see, but you might find them hidden in the bumper, near the license plate, in the trunk lid or in the tailgate of an SUV or pickup truck. The cameras are usually aimed at a downward angle to provide the best view immediately behind your car. They also have wide-angle lenses, so you're getting a more comprehensive image than you'd get with a rear view mirror. Monitors are incorporated into a car's entertainment, climate control and navigation systems. Some older cars use the rear view mirror as the monitor.
Backup Cameras Aren't Perfect
Although backup camera systems have many advantages and can enhance both safety and convenience, some issues can affect their operation. Knowing what to expect can help you prepare to use and maintain your rear monitoring system effectively.
The most common problem that owners experience is poor image quality, and the most likely cause is simply a dirty lens. Since many cameras are mounted low on the back of the car, they're subject to being obscured by mud, snow, dirt or other debris. Luckily, the fix is easy: Clean the lens with a soft cloth (to prevent scratching the lens).
If you have a wireless system- most often found on aftermarket models- there could be an interference or pairing problem with the signal.
Aftermarket Backup Cameras
If your existing car, built before 2018, doesn't have a backup camera, adding one is fairly easy, and you don't necessarily have to spend a lot for it. Retailers such as Amazon, Best Buy and Crutchfield sell aftermarket systems starting at less than $10 for a bottom-of-the-line stand-alone camera for vehicles that have existing in-dash displays. Complete setups with a camera, transmitter and display can run from less than $100 to more than $500.
With some aftermarket systems, you mount the camera in a license-plate frame. So installing it is simple, and the only tool you need might be a screwdriver. Other cameras mount in a rear trim piece or bumper cover, so you might need to drill holes and use more tools to get the job done.
And there are some systems that use two or more cameras, which add to the complexity of the installation.
Then there's the issue of a monitor. If you have an existing screen, there are cameras available that can send the image directly to that display. But if your car isn't currently equipped with a monitor, you'll need to buy a system that includes one. There are several options, such as dash- or console-mounted displays and replacement rear view mirrors with monitors built into them. And since most new products feature wireless backup cameras, you won't have the problems of fishing cables through your vehicle's interior. To make installation easier, some aftermarket suppliers post videos on their websites to help DIYers with step-by-step setup instructions. If DIY isn't for you, many auto-parts retailers will handle the installation
Since 2016, all Challengers come with a high definition backup camera system. This is a welcome addition in light of the Challenger’s poor rear visibility. If you want to install a backup camera in an older model, it is fairly easy if you have MyGig radio. First you need a Lockpic for the radio (around $300 on E-bay). It will come with the wiring harness you need to plug in the camera. The OEM Integrated backup camera mounts above the license plate area .Once connected to the video interface module, the image appears automatically in high definition when the vehicle is placed into reverse. The Integration Module is a fully programmed plug and play Interface that allows for Video. This system is a simple OEM integration package that maintains your factory set up and only takes a few simple steps to install, while upgrading your vehicle with backup camera and full Multimedia Video integration.
If your Challenger does not have Nav, you must install a stereo designed for video. There are plenty of stereos, under $250, that will work. As for what camera to use, it depends on where you want to install the camera (e.g., above the license plate or the rear spoiler).
Future Camera Technology
In many ways, the future is already here. For example, many automakers now offer a 360-degree camera system- also called a bird's-eye view system- that uses images from four exterior cameras to create an accurate overhead picture that's very useful when maneuvering in tight spaces. This technology usually is available as an option or as part of a technology package.
Through the years, several concept cars have been displayed with side view cameras that eliminate mirrors, but the 2019 Lexus ES 350 sedan is the first production vehicle on the market with this feature. The advantages, according to Lexus, include better forward visibility since the cameras are smaller than mirrors; less wind noise; and better side and rear visibility with fewer blind spots. For now this technology will only be available in Japan, where side view cameras are legal.
Mitsubishi Electric is testing what it says is the industry's highest-performing automotive camera, which combines with proprietary artificial intelligence (AI) capability to detect and differentiate objects as far away as 100 meters. This system uses AI to mimic human visual behavior and focus rapidly on objects to let the driver know if it's "seeing" another car, a pedestrian, a motorcycle or some other object.
And, of course, cameras will be an integral part of autonomous vehicle design. For now, the semi-automated systems available on many cars still require the driver to remain alert, and some are using in-cabin cameras and sensors to be sure someone is paying attention. Cadillac's Super Cruise technology, for example, uses an infrared camera to monitor the driver's head and eye movements. If driver focus wanders too long from the road, warnings sound, and if that doesn't work, Super Cruise will gently bring the car to a stop. BMW is introducing similar technology on the 2019 BMW X5 SUV. The BMW system uses an optical camera to track driver attention, and combined with a suite of other tech features, it will allow hands-free and pedal-free operation under certain conditions.